Decision should not rest on one story, defence tells murder jury

The jury in the Westmeath cold-case murder trial has been told that Colin Pinder’s fate should not rest on a story spun by his co-accused and her daughter in the years following the killing.

Conor Devally SC, defending Mr Pinder, was giving his closing speech today in the month-long trial at the Central Criminal Court.

Mr Pinder (aged 47), of Liverpool, England has pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to the manslaughter of 43-year-old Bernard Brian McGrath between March 10 and April 18, 1987.

His former mother-in-law, Vera McGrath (aged 61), has pleaded not guilty to murdering her husband at their home in Lower Coole, Westmeath. Their daughter, Veronica McGrath, is the chief prosecution witness and was engaged to Mr Pinder when her father was killed.

Mr Pinder, who is of mixed race, told detectives that he hit Mr McGrath hard after he called him a ni**er. Mr McGrath hit his head against the range as he fell and Mr Pinder thought he’d killed him. He claimed his co-accused insisted on finishing him off and they did.

Mr Devally maintained that the verdict against his client should be manslaughter due to provocation. He said this racism caused him to act out of character.

“He did a terribly shameful thing, acted towards someone that had been painted as a monster,” he said. Mr Pinder had told detectives that his fiancée described her father as violent towards his family.

“Colin Pinder was not to know that this man coming at him was battling for his own survival,” said Mr Devally, referring to attempts by the victim’s wife and daughter to have him committed to a mental institution.

“Colin Pinder knows he acted in reaction, not just to Mr McGrath, but to all that he had been made to think,” he said.

“Perhaps Colin Pinder’s life is the one most consistent with someone who acted out of character, a man whose character has been destroyed and life shadowed by it,” he suggested, reminding the jury of his attempts to take his own life following the killing.

“Colin Pinder couldn’t cope with what he’d done. He wants it off his chest. He has no life. He comes to Dublin to get one,” he continued.

“By the time the forces of the law woke up, he was an agoraphobic in a small flat in Liverpool,” he said. “Veronica McGrath (Jnr) lives in the family household and has banished everyone else from it.”

The prosecution had asked what her motive would be for making up such a story.

“If we were to spend the trial finding out the motives of the two Veras, the trial would never end,” said Mr Devally. “His fate should not rest on whatever was woven between 1987 and 1993 by the Veronicas.”

“I don’t trust anything out of her mouth,” he added, suggesting that daughter had learned from mother.

“Mrs McGrath taught her daughter young, lessons that were lapped up, that it’s fair game to abuse, lie, lock someone up, to employ the whole system, maybe even fun,” said Mr Devally.

He said it might have been thrilling to pretend a year and a half after his death that Mr McGrath had just smashed their car windows, or to make a serious allegation about one of her ex-husbands in England.

“This Veronica is the one you’re supposed to believe, a person who is volatile, deceiving and illogical, who used the courts to get rid of her son and brothers, to lock up her husband and father,” he said.

“If they didn’t cheat someone else, maybe they cheated each other,” he suggested of mother and daughter. “Ultimately you would have to have no faith in the detail put forward by the one witness.”

He said his client’s interviews should be viewed as coming from someone struggling with his involvement in ‘the almost Satanic’ digging up and burning of someone he knew.

His client was also agoraphobic, epileptic and depressed when he gave differing statements, he said.

Mr Devally said his client had remorse and had repeatedly said he was not a murderer.

“That’s what I’m asking you to decide,” he said. “He did something in a fit, partly manipulated by the picture painted around him and the put-upon Mr McGrath."

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