The jury in the Westmeath cold-case murder trial has been told to treat the main prosecution witness as a potential accomplice and to take care assessing her evidence.
However Dominic McGinn BL, prosecuting, said corroboration of Veronica McGrath’s testimony could be found in the statement of one of the defendants, her mother.
Vera McGrath (aged 61) and her former son-in-law, Colin Pinder, are charged with murdering Mrs McGrath’s husband between March 10 and April 18, 1987. The mother-of-four has pleaded not guilty to murdering 43-year-old Bernard Brian McGrath at their home in Lower Coole, Westmeath.
Mr McGinn outlined the similarities in both stories including two of the weapons used, a spanner and slash-hook. They both said that Mrs McGrath had wished her husband dead that evening and that Mr Pinder had produced ‘the very thing’ to do it.
Both mother and daughter said Mr McGrath tried to protect himself with a ladder and that Mr Pinder hit the victim’s legs with the slash-hook.
They both spoke of a gurgling noise coming from the victim, with Mrs McGrath describing it as ‘a death rattle’ according to her daughter.
Both accounts contained a description of the cleaning of blood and mucus off the garage wall.
“Those accounts are remarkably similar and form the backbone of the case against Vera McGrath,” said Mr McGinn.
He said that Veronica McGrath was telling the truth and described her mother as instrumental in the murder.
“It’s quite clear she was there at the instigation, and there at the time encouraging and offering assistance,” said Mr McGinn.
“Those three make her as guilty as if she had delivered the fatal blow,” he added, suggesting that both defendants were working in joint enterprise.
He said Colin Pinder’s accounts of the night completely contradicted Ms McGrath’s evidence. Mr Pinder (aged 47), of Liverpool, England has pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter.
“Colin Pinder has every reason to lie because that is premeditated and nothing short of murder,” he said of his ex-wife’s testimony. His story of him hitting his fiancée’s father in a fit of rage was not as bad, he said.
He reminded the jury of the discrepancies in Mr Pinder’s 1993, 2008 and 2009 statements.
“When you tell a detailed lie, it’s impossible to remember the detail as time goes on,” he said.
Patrick Gageby SC, defending Vera McGrath, asked which two people were involved in the killing. Colin Pinder had already admitted manslaughter, he pointed out. Who was the other, witness or accused? he asked.
He said it had been unpleasant to cross-examine his client’s daughter about her life. He said he did this to dispel the image of Mrs McGrath as a dominant mother and to show that Veronica McGrath always did what she wanted.
“She was everywhere at the scene,” he said. “Doing what? A mere observer? She never said stop.”
He reminded the jury that she married Mr Pinder a week or two later.
“Would you marry someone who had, contrary to your wishes, savagely killed your father in front of you?” he asked the jury.
“Where did the honeymooning couple go?” he asked, pointing out that they moved into the house where her father had been killed.
“Only a person who had no problem with it would spend their honeymoon at the scene of her father’s death,” he suggested. “It’s not compatible to do those actions, stay in that place or marry that man unless you had a hand, act or part in it.”
He noted that she’d complained of her father’s violence to a number of people in the 1980s, but denied this in the witness box. He said that accepting she’d complained would have given her as much motive as her mother.
“She has the form of immunity, which is as good as it gets. Nothing she said here can be used against her,” he said, suggesting that she would never be prosecuted. “She’s on the right side of the police, who have treated her with kid gloves and never asked her tough questions,” he continued.
“Is it possible that people can make false allegations of serious matters about people and cause them to be prosecuted?” he asked, reminding the jury that Ms McGrath had made a serious allegation about one of her ex-husbands.
He had been jailed but was released when she didn’t show up at the trial. She then placed two of their daughters in his care, he added.
“Where do they sit?” he asked of mother and daughter. “One free at the back of the court, one accused in peril.”
He noted that Veronica McGrath now lived in the original family home in Coole, from where she had barred one of her sons and two of her brothers.
He said that the reason his client’s statements mirrored her daughter’s was because it had been put to her, something denied by some gardaí and accepted by others.
“It’s remembered by someone who didn’t take notes and disremembered by those who did take notes. Funny that,” he commented.
“The gardaí in this case clearly cherry-picked to break certain rules and regulations,” he suggested, noting that the Morris Report had arisen out of such misconduct.
He said the gardaí had treated his client’s co-accused differently.
“Colin Pinder was love-bombed by the guards,” he said. “He was never arrested.”
His client had been arrested, taken to another town and detained for 20 hours, he said.
Mr Gageby said this was not a cold case because that would suggest an unsolved or un-prosecutable case. He said there was a suggestion that this case could not have been brought without DNA evidence, which was not available at the time.
However he told the jury about the 1970s case of Liam Townsan, who was convicted of shooting dead a British soldier; the body was never found.
“There is no case of murder in this case answerable by Vera McGrath,” he concluded.
Conor Devally SC will give his closing speech on behalf of Mr Pinder tomorrow.