Judge charges Westmeath murder case jury

The judge in the Westmeath cold-case murder trial has outlined parts of one of the defendant’s statements capable of corroborating the main witness’s evidence.

Mr Justice John Edwards was charging the jury for a second day in the month-long trial at the Central Criminal Court.

Vera McGrath (aged 61) has pleaded not guilty to murdering her 43-year-old husband, Bernard Brian McGrath, at their home in Lower Coole 23 years ago.

Her co-accused and former son-in-law, Colin Pinder (aged 47), of Liverpool, England has pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to Mr McGrath’s manslaughter between March 10 and April 18, 1987.

Veronica McGrath, daughter of Vera and Brian McGrath, was engaged to Mr Pinder when her father was killed. She is the principle prosecution witness and told the trial that she saw the defendants kill and bury her father behind the family home.

The judge said that both mother and daughter claimed that on the night of the killing Mrs McGrath went into her daughter’s caravan crying and upset.

Both claimed that Mrs McGrath then wished her husband dead and Mr Pinder said he had ‘the very thing’ to do it.

Both women spoke of gesturing between the two defendants on the walk from the caravan to the family home that night.

Both said that Mrs McGrath had gone in the window of the house when Mr McGrath sustained the first blow and ended up on the ground, continued the judge.

Both women agreed that Mrs McGrath hit her husband, probably with a spanner, when he was lying on the ground. Both said that Mr McGrath had thrown a ladder at Colin Pinder, he noted.

Each woman mentioned following Mr McGrath down the lane before Mr Pinder caught up with him and hit the victim’s legs with a slash hook. Each recalled Mr McGrath telling Mr Pinder he was sorry, he continued.

Finally both women spoke of the victim making a gurgling or rattling sound that Mrs McGrath associated with death.

The judge said that it was a matter for the jury whether these parts of Mrs McGrath’s statements corroborated her daughter’s testimony.

The judge also explained the reference to ‘Judge’s Rules’ in the cross examination of one of the garda witnesses.

“One of the things the judge’s rules requires is that a record of notes should be read back to the accused,” he said.

Superintendent Aidan Glacken had agreed with Patrick Gageby SC, defending Mrs McGrath, that not all interviews conducted with his client were read back to her.

“Failure to comply with judge’s rules may render the fruits of an interview inadmissible,” explained the judge.

“A conscious decision not to comply … could amount to perverting the course of justice.”

The judge also spoke of notes of another interview with Mrs McGrath having gone missing.

“There is no explanation,” he told the jury. “That’s unfortunate. It doesn’t make your job any easier.”

The delay in prosecuting the case was also addressed. The judge noted that Supt Glacken had speculated that there would have been a prosecution in 1993 had bones found in Coole been identified.

“That is just speculation,” he warned.

Mr Gageby had rejected the notion that the case was not brought in 1993 because DNA profiling was in its infancy. He pointed out in his closing speech that murder cases could be prosecuted without a body.

The judge confirmed that this was true but said such a case would not be that easy to mount.

Mr Justice Edwards will continue his charge tomorrow morning, with the jury expected to begin deliberating in the afternoon.

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