A woman accused of murdering her husband 23 years ago was told by gardaí in 1996 that she would not be prosecuted, when the 'missing jigsaw piece' was DNA identification.
Superintendent Aidan Glacken was being cross examined in the cold-case murder trial at the Central Criminal Court.
Vera McGrath (aged 61) pleads not guilty to murdering 43-year-old Bernard Brian McGrath at their home in Lower Coole, Westmeath on a date between March 10 and April 18, 1987.
Her former son-in-law, Colin Pinder (aged 47), of Liverpool, England has pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter.
Superintendent Glacken interviewed both defendants in 1993, having received a statement implicating them from Mrs McGrath’s daughter and Mr Pinder’s ex-wife, Veronica. Human bones had been located in Lower Coole and both defendants admitted involvement.
Patrick Gageby SC, defending Mrs McGrath, put it to him that his client was told in 1997 that no prosecution was to be taken against her.
“I’m not aware of that,” said Supt Glacken before being handed a letter written to Mrs McGrath’s solicitors on October 25, 1996.
“I confirm that the garda investigation into this case has concluded,” he read aloud from the witness box.
The letter, written by a Superintendent Hynes of Granard Garda Station, went on to say that there would be no prosecution against Mrs McGrath.
Supt Glacken confirmed to Conor Devally SC, defending Mr Pinder, that DNA profiling was in its infancy here at the time but that the bones dug up were found to be consistent with those of an adult male.
He confirmed that those implicated in the killing said that they belonged to Brian McGrath and that they had been found where they said they had buried them.
He was asked if the only evidence not available in 1994 was the DNA identification.
“That would be the critical piece of the jigsaw that was missing,” replied Supt Glacken.
“I obviously believed that the body in the ground was her husband when I arrested her,” he explained. “But I couldn’t close the book on it because I couldn’t prove it.”
The superintendent agreed that there were other ways of proving things, that circumstantial evidence could be sufficient to convict a person.
“Prior to DNA, do you think that every unidentified corpse resulted in no prosecution?” asked Mr Devally.
“No,” replied the witness, agreeing that he had heard of ‘no body’ murder cases.
The witness had earlier given evidence of Mr Pinder’s 1993 statements to a police officer in England.
He said he had moved to Coole with Veronica McGrath and was planning to marry her.
Initially they had been invited to live with her parents but her father then provided them with a caravan on a friend’s land instead.
He said that Mrs McGrath invited them to stay in the house when her husband was away for a couple of days and that he ‘blew up’ when he returned to find the couple there with her.
“You get out with your ni**er boyfriend,” said the deceased, according to Mr Pinder, who is of mixed race.
He claimed that Mr McGrath then began to push him out.
“I just lost my temper and I hit him … quite hard,” he continued. “He spun around and fell down and hit the corner of the range with his head. There was like a dent in his forehead.”
He said Mr McGrath was bleeding but not breathing and he thought he had killed him. Both women were screaming, he added.
Mr Pinder said he suggested getting the police and telling the truth but that Mrs McGrath said not to involve them.
“She said … :‘No-one will ask any questions because he’s always going off. People are being murdered in the North all the time’. They sort of had me convinced,” he said. “I stupidly agreed to bury him in the field.”
He said he dug a shallow hole, they put him in and covered him with soil. He claimed that over the following week Mrs McGrath suggested moving the body and digging a deeper hole, but he refused.
“I couldn’t face going through it all again,” he explained. “That week was hell. We were just arguing.”
He said he married Ms McGrath a few weeks later; the date had already been set. It was some time after that that he agreed to move and burn the body.
“We done it in the night time,” he said, explaining that he felt ‘terrible’ when he dug up the body.
He said he lit the fire and they went into the house for a few hours while it burned. He said they returned, moved the ashes with a spade and put soil on top.
He said he left Ireland about a month later, two weeks after his new bride gave birth to their child. This was at the request of both mother and daughter, he said.
“I’m really sick about it all. I’m sick that I did it and I’m sorry,” he concluded.
The trial continues.