Tuesday 21 November 2017

Wexford woman accused of cleaning up murder scene

Jessica Magee

A WEXFORD woman has gone on trial accused of cleaning up a murder scene in a bid to destroy evidence.

Helen Connors (27) with an address at Belvedere Grove in Wexford, has pleaded not guilty to impeding the investigation into the murder of 30-year-old Rebecca French.

The body of the mother-of-two was found in the boot of a burning car at Cod's Lane on the outskirts of Wexford town on the afternoon of October 9th, 2009.

She had been brutally assaulted at a house at the nearby housing estate Ard na Dara, Clonard and died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head.

On the opening day of the trial, Helen Connors denied disposing of, or attempting to destroy, evidence with the intention of impeding the apprehension and prosecution of the people involved in Ms French's murder.

Ms Una Ní Raifertaigh BL, prosecuting, told the jury the accused claims she was ordered by the perpetrators to clean up the murder scene in order to get rid of any traces of the crime committed in her presence.

She said Helen Connors told gardaí shortly after the murder that as the men left the house to dispose of Ms French's body they instructed her to “Clean, clean, clean,” and that she had done so under duress, fearing the men would come back and attack her.

The prosecution told the jury that they must determine Helen Connors' state of mind at the time, and whether she freely and voluntarily cleaned up evidence to prevent the attackers from being caught.

Garda Sean Twomey told the court that after he had been alerted to a burning car in Cod's Lane on the afternoon of 9th October 2009, he travelled to the scene and found the charred remains of Ms French in the boot at about 16.30.

Just over an hour later, Gda Twomey went to the house at 17, Ard na Dara in Clonard and found four men and two women, one of the men sitting in just his underpants and socks.

Gda Twomey noticed some blood-stained clothes near the washing machine, which was running at the time.

State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy said that Rebecca French had suffered repeated kicks, stamps, punches and heavy slaps to the upper body and face and about four blows to the head from an object with a striking surface of about one inch.

She said the victim's skull had been smashed by three overlying fractures and that she had died from blunt force trauma to her head.

She told the court that the victim had two black eyes, five fractured ribs and severe bruising on her arms suggesting she had sought to defend herself.

Sample testing carried out on the body revealed that Rebecca French had been 'moderately intoxicated' with alcohol, ecstacy and BZP.

Professor Cassidy said Ms French's partially burned body was found curled up in the boot of her blue Opel Corsa with the remains of a blue plastic bag tied around her face and neck with cable ties.

She said the plastic bag had probably been affixed to contain the blood leaking from the victim's injuries, although it may also have been to suffocate her.

She said the victim's hand and wrists had been bound with cable ties when she was no longer capable of struggle.

A number of civilian witnesses gave evidence of seeing smoke billowing from the car on Cod's Lane on the afternoon in question and of noticing four men in the vicinity who seemed to be drunk.

Three of the men seemed to be in good form, laughing and joking with one another, but the fourth appeared to have “a fornlorn looking face on him”.

Garda Jacinta Phelan, who was on patrol duty when she was alerted to the fire, said she spoke to the four men, one of whom was carrying a half empty bottle of vodka.

The gardaí took the men's details and asked them where they were coming from and where they were going to, and they replied that they were on a walk to get more drink and were heading back to Patrick O'Connor's house at 17, Ard na Dara, Clonard.

A shop assistant from the ALDI store in Wexford gave evidence that earlier that day, Rebecca French and another girl had attempted to walk out of the shop without paying for a bottle of rum, and that the other girl had seemed to be drunk.

The trial at the Central Criminal Court is expected to have concluded by early next week.

It is being presided over by Mr Justice Paul Carney and a jury of nine men and three women.

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