Careless driving case collapses

The trial of a 24-year-old woman for careless driving causing the death of her younger friend more than three years ago on the Cork/Kerry border has collapsed after the jury received a prosecution exhibit document, part of which they should not have seen.

Sarah O'Connell, centre, denied careless driving causing the death of 14-year-old Caitlín Taylor in June 2014.

At 2.40pm yesterday, trial judge Thomas E O’Donnell recalled the jury who had been sworn in on Tuesday. The judge apologised to them but said he had no choice but to discharge them after an application by the defence.

The trial of Sarah O’Connell was in its third day. She had pleaded not guilty to the charge of careless driving causing the death of Caitlin Taylor aged 14 of Gouldshill, Mallow at Knockeenahone, Scartaglen, on June 15, 2014.

Judge O’Donnell charged the jury yesterday morning, summing up the evidence and speaking about the distinction between dangerous driving and the lesser charge of driving without due care which the jury had to deliberate on. 

The 12 were handed the exhibits including statements and a memo of a Garda interview with the accused. They were sent out to start deliberating at 11.40am.

After just over an hour, the jury returned asking for clarification on whether a momentary lapse of concentration could amount to careless driving. 

Judge O’Donnell advised them on this and on case law pertaining to it and told them they were the arbiters of the facts. The jury went to lunch under guard.

After lunch, but before restarting deliberations, the foreman of the jury asked the judge about a prosecution exhibit, a memo of an interview, which the jury had received and parts of which had been scribbled out.

The 12 jurors were sent out, and after consultation between the legal teams senior counsel Mark Nichols, for the defence, assisted by barrister Katie O’Connell and instructed by solicitor Eimear Griffin, told Judge O’Donnell he was applying for a discharge of the jury.

At 2.40pm, the jury was recalled and Judge O’Donnell spoke to them “in respect of the matter regarding the memo of interview and the parts scribbled out”.

He said: “From time to time there’s agreement between the defence and the prosecution on matters.”

It had been agreed that a section of the memo should go out and the jurors had been given the edited document. 

Unfortunately, they had also been given an item they should not have, the judge said, referring to the scribbled on or unedited document which had been included also in the exhibits.

“The defence has made an application to discharge the jury. This has happened and I am sorry about that but there’s nothing I can do about it,” Judge O’Donnell told them. 

He thanked them and excused them from jury service for a period of five years, before formally discharging them.

Ms O’Connell, of Sean Moylan Park in Mallow, Co Cork, was told she could stand down and she left the dock to join her mother and grandfather.

The matter has been put back to January 15 at the Circuit Criminal Court in Tralee to fix a date for a trial and Ms O’Connell has been remanded on continuing bail.


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