Wednesday 13 December 2017

Woman faces retrial as cold case murder verdict quashed

Brian Kavanagh

THE country's first successful cold case murder conviction has been overturned on appeal.

Vera McGrath (64) faces a retrial for the murder of her husband Bernard Brian McGrath (43) after the decision by the Court of Criminal Appeal.

The three-judge court found that prejudicial evidence used to "blacken" the name of Vera McGrath was heard at the trial, which rendered it unsafe and unsatisfactory.

Vera McGrath was jailed for life in July 2010 having been found guilty by a Central Criminal Court jury of the murder of Mr McGrath, 23 years after he was killed.

But yesterday at the Court of Criminal Appeal, presiding judge Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman said the court would quash the conviction and direct Vera McGrath's retrial.

The judge said that in directing a retrial, the court was not stating the prosecution had to proceed with a retrial.

Mr Gageby asked that Vera McGrath be released on bail on the same conditions as previously imposed at trial. There was no objection from the State.

After entering in to a bond before the court registrar, Vera McGrath walked out of the Criminal Courts of Justice Complex on Dublin's Parkgate Street.

She had previously denied murdering her husband in Lower Coole, Westmeath, between March 10 and April 18, 1987 but was convicted at trial.

Counsel for the applicant, Patrick Gageby, submitted that a "hatchet job" had been done on Vera McGrath by her co-accused, Colin Pinder, of Liverpool in England.

Pinder was jailed for nine years in December 2010 after he was acquitted of murder but convicted of the manslaughter of Mr McGrath, to which he had pleaded guilty.

Mr Gageby said the court had heard prejudicial evidence from a witness who allegedly observed Vera McGrath crushing up tablets and putting them in Mr McGrath's tea before dressing him in tights and calling a doctor to say the deceased had "gone mad".

Mr Gageby said the trial judge had "grossly underestimated" the danger of an unfair trial on the basis of this "unhelpful pejorative material".

He said had there been separate trials for both defendants, his client would not have had to deal with the material, which had rubbished her credibility.

He said that Vera McGrath had suffered an injustice after an application for a separate trial to that of Pinder was refused.

Mr Gageby said the decision to proceed with a joint trial was inappropriate.

The judge said that Pinder, who had said he had participated in the killing at the instigation of Vera McGrath, was entitled to cross-examine witnesses to draw out the suggestion that his participation was less than was required to establish a case of murder.

He said that Pinder took advantage of this to attack the credibility of Vera McGrath and "it worked for him".

Mr Justice Hardiman said the court was of the opinion that there was "considerable conceptual difficulty" in a case of joint enterprise where only one of the defendants was guilty of murder.

He said the court found there was an "inherent contradiction" in trying to convince a jury that the case was both one of murder by joint enterprise, and one where Pinder might be regarded as "merely guilty" of manslaughter.

Mr Justice Hardiman said there had been a "strong case" for running a joint trial because of the allegedly mutually involved nature of the case, but as it happened, the effect was to permit Pinder to "blacken" Vera McGrath.

"The court is not happy it can be said that the conviction was either a safe or a satisfactory one," the judge said.

Irish Independent

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