Tuesday 12 December 2017

Strain of trial on everyone's faces in the courtroom

Nicola Anderson

A TRIAL scheduled for three weeks that spilled over into a seventh week; a judge's charge that stretched out for four days, followed by more than nine hours of deliberations; and at the end of it all, a verdict -- Vera McGrath was found guilty of the murder of her husband.

As the day ran on yesterday, the stress and strain of the case began to tell on the faces of all concerned -- gardai, the judge, the jury, the legal teams, and above all, on the defendant herself.

Vera McGrath sat, wrapped in a knitted cardigan, her greying hair tucked behind her ears, eyes blinking rapidly. Her chest heaved and fell with her quickened breath as she waited.

She cut an extraordinary figure as she trudged in and out of Courtroom Nine at the Courts of Criminal Justice. Meanwhile, the jury were sent out and returned from breaks as they took time out from deliberating over her fate.

At her heels was her devoted younger boyfriend Michael Gavin, who has been her constant and loyal companion throughout this whole ordeal.

He has carried her fluffy handbag, mouthed solicitious questions as to her welfare and followed faithfully in her footsteps.

It appears that Vera McGrath suffers from ill health. Early on in the trial, at an innocuous moment, she suddenly broke down, tears steaming down her cheeks.

From then on, Judge John Edwards took care to ensure that regular breaks were scheduled to allow her to take her medication.

Out on the roof garden, Vera's daughter, Veronica, the chief prosecution witness, sat yesterday for long periods of time, deep in thought.

Lunchtime approached and Judge Edwards summoned the jury back. Had they reached a verdict?

"No," the jury foreman answered tiredly. Then he would accept a majority verdict, the judge told them -- but because they were already missing a member, the majority could be no less than 10-1.

Outside the courtroom, Denis Vaughan Buckley SC, for the prosecution, approached Veronica.

"It's been a long day," he said politely.

"A long day, Mr Buckley," she answered, sunken hollows under her eyes. Nearby, gardai sat or paced anxiously.

Finally, as the clock approached 7pm, the jury minder came in, indicating that a verdict had been reached after nine hours and three minutes of deliberations. Guilty of murder.

Vera McGrath's face did not change but she appeared to be shaking, her eyes red.

Her boyfriend beside her looked stunned.

The atmosphere of the courtroom was one of shock but the expression on her daughter Veronica's face never changed.

"Stand up, please, Mrs McGrath," the judge told her, before he imposed the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.

Then Colin Pinder was brought out, to be remanded in custody until November 1.

As Vera McGrath was led out by a prison officer, her boyfriend wept and a garda shook his hand in silence.

Irish Independent

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