Saturday 21 July 2018

Long day of tough questions concludes with a brief denial

Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

"JOHN O'Brien," called the court registrar, and the accused man stood up and took his place in the stand.

There arose an almighty rustle of hushed excitement from the crowd of onlookers in Court Two.

Meg Walsh's 18-year-old daughter Sasha Keating and the dead woman's brother James Walsh sat up a little straighter in their seats.

"Speak up so the juror at the back can hear you," instructed counsel for the defence Paddy McCarthy, and Mr O'Brien, visibly pale, nodded tensely.

He last saw his wife at 5.50pm on October 1, 2006, he told the court.

"Both of us were a bit upset after what happened," he said, in reference to the previous night's events, when he had allegedly seen his wife kissing another man.

"Had you any hand or part in the murder of Meg Walsh?" defence counsel finally asked.

"No, I didn't," Mr O'Brien calmly replied, his hands placed solidly on his knees.

Bristling with anticipation, Denis Vaughan Buckley for the prosecution stood up and immediately began his interrogation.

Some of the jury members appeared to be closely watching this witness -- while others took copious notes for their looming deliberations, expected to begin on Thursday.

Why had his story to gardai about his movements on the day his wife disappeared differed from that told to a friend, demanded Mr Buckley.

Mr O'Brien explained that the friend probably couldn't remember what he had actually told him -- that man had been "totally wrong".

And yet, why hadn't he been cross-questioned while on the witness stand, Mr Buckley queried. Because it hadn't been decided whether or not he himself would be giving evidence, Mr O'Brien replied.

Lies

"You told deliberate lies, do you accept that?" Mr Buckley asked him. The accused said he "may have omitted certain things" and hadn't intentionally told lies.

"But you're an innocent person -- why were you telling lies to the guards?" asked Mr Buckley.

"I didn't think things were going to come to this," came the reply. He didn't think there would be a murder investigation.

"You thought the body would never be found," Mr Buckley said.

When the prosecution lawyer repeated his question, Mr O'Brien said: "I was expecting Meg to come home."

Mr Buckley's cross-questioning continued in a vigorous fashion, as he lighted on a litany of, what he perceived to be, inconsistencies in Mr O'Brien's account of events.

The fact that he had told gardai that he had last seen Meg at 5pm on the Sunday, rather than at 5.50pm. Mr O'Brien didn't think it was a "such a big deal".

That he hadn't told them about the note left in the letterbox by a concerned friend of Meg's. "I forgot about the note," Mr O'Brien told him.

Instructed to look at his diary, Mr O'Brien's hands were visibly shaking.

On and on Mr Buckley continued, putting it to him repeatedly that he had lied about his story, until the final question. "I put it to you that you did murder your wife, Meg Walsh. You'd the opportunity to kill her and a motive to kill her and you did it. You killed her."

Mr O'Brien's reply was simple and brief: "No, I didn't."

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