By Jessica Magee
A Donegal teenager has been acquitted of raping a schoolmate after they met at a takeaway in the early hours of March 18, 2016.
The 19-year-old youth had denied one count of rape and another of oral rape of a girl behind a building in a town in Co Donegal following St Patrick's night celebrations.
Both parties were aged 16 at the time.
On the 12th day of the trial, the jury at the Central Criminal Court returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty after just under two hours' deliberation.
When Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy told the youth he was free to go, he left the dock and rushed to hug his parents who had been in court for the duration of the trial.
The 18-year-old complainant left the courtroom in tears, accompanied by family members.
During the trial, the court heard that both the complainant and defendant had been out drinking separately with friends before they met in a takeaway.
The boy suggested that they go for a walk and they went behind a building, where they started kissing and the girl said the alleged offences then occurred.
The court heard that after the alleged oral rape took place, a car arrived close to the scene and the defendant went to ask the occupants of the car to leave.
Evidence showed that the girl then sent several text messages to her friend saying “help help please” and also phoned a friend asking for help and saying she didn't know what to do.
The girl maintained that when the defendant returned from talking to the occupants of the car, he grabbed her elbows, turned her around and raped her.
She said she was crying heavily and told him “no” five or six times.
The defendant took to the stand and told his counsel that the girl had given no “verbal or physical” indication that she didn't want sexual activity to happen.
He maintained that the atmosphere between himself and the girl as they walked back from the scene was “romantic” and that they were very comfortable in each other's company.
Witnesses described seeing the girl crying and in a distressed state standing alone outside the takeaway after the alleged offences.
CCTV footage was shown to the jury of both teenagers returning from the scene hand in hand. The clip showed them kissing briefly before the girl pushed the boy gently away.
In his report to the DPP, lead investigator Gda Paul Leape commented that the girl did not appear from the footage to be “overtly upset”.
However, he added that CCTV was only a “one-dimensional view” and that “just because she doesn't appear to me to be upset, it doesn't mean that, inside, she wasn't upset.”
In his closing speech to the jury, Michael O'Higgins SC, defending, described the CCTV as “a devastating piece of footage with respect to the credibility of (the complainant)”.
“These are not the actions of someone who has been twice raped in the previous few minutes,” said counsel for the defence.
Under cross-examination, the girl said, “I can agree it would be hard for other people to understand unless you'd been in that situation. I myself can't explain it. All I know is that from mid-way through the intercourse until some weeks later I was in a state of complete shock, and I can't explain my actions during that time.”
Defence counsel also submitted that there were significant gaps in the complainant's memory about what had happened on the night, and inconsistencies in the differing accounts she gave to gardaí and other witnesses.
In his closing speech, prosecution counsel Patrick McGrath SC said the injuries to the girl's head and vagina were “not consistent with a willing, voluntary sexual encounter” but rather were consistent with the “violent, unwilling, forced sexual encounter described by the complainant”.
Mr McGrath said the complainant had been “consistent throughout that she never consented to oral or vaginal sex in that alleyway”.
In her charge to the jury at the conclusion of the evidence, Ms Justice Murphy told the jurors to ask themselves if they were giving several accounts of an event that was traumatic in their own lives, whether they would give exactly the same account each time or whether there might be differences.
The court heard that the accused sent a number of Snapchat messages to one of the girl's friends some weeks afterwards, asking to speak to the girl, who had blocked his number, and saying he had heard some “f***ed up rumours” about what had happened.
“Some of the rumours are sick and I would never intentionally hurt her,” one message from the defendant read.
Ms Justice Murphy thanked the jurors for their service and excused them from jury duty.