Trial of woman accused of murdering husband continues

A cold-case trial has heard that a woman accused of murdering her husband in 1987 claimed to have rowed with him a year later.

The Central Criminal Court was hearing from a family friend on day nine of the trial of Vera McGrath (aged 61), who has pleaded not guilty to murdering 43-year-old Bernard Brian McGrath at their home in Lower Coole, Westmeath.

Her former son-in-law, Colin Pinder (aged 47), of Liverpool, England has pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter on a date between March 10 and April 18, 1987.

Kathleen Kelly testified that she was awaiting a call at a phone box in a Cloghan pub one Sunday night in 1988, when the bar tender told her she was wanted in the grocery area.

“Young Vera was standing in the grocery crying,” she said of Veronica McGrath, the trial’s chief prosecution witness, who alleges she saw her fiancé and mother killing her father in 1987.

“She said the family was after being thrown out of the house by the Dad,” continued Ms Kelly, who said she went outside and saw the younger McGrath children, along with a baby and Vera McGrath Snr.

“She said he had broken all the windows in the car and they were afraid and had to leave,” she recalled of Mrs McGrath.

Ms Kelly said she had known the family since the early 1980s when her brother asked her to accommodate Veronica McGrath.

“She was very young,” she recalled. “She said her father had put her out of the house. She was homeless.”

She said she was told that this was because of who she (Ms McGrath) was dating.

“She stayed for a good few months,” she continued, recalling that she left suddenly one day when out cleaning the windows.

“Her mother came and Vera was gone,” she explained. “There were no goodbyes. She left all her clothes behind.”

Ms Kelly said nobody ever came back for her things and she never met the deceased.

An anatomist told the court that he examined bone fragments in 1993, which had been found in the McGrath garden.

Dr Patrick Felle said he sifted through a lot of material that also included chicken and sheep bones before identifying the human bones.

“The vast amount was fragmented and had been chopped up,” he said, explaining that only the small bones of the right hand and some small foot bones were in tact.

He said that much of the bone was also burnt but this hand and part of the jaw bone was not.

“It looked likely that they were from one human. We didn’t find two of anything,” he said, adding that he was also able to tell that the deceased had been more than 25 years old.

He said that the thickness of the bones was consistent with them having belonged to a male of average build, but he could not be certain as so much of the pelvis was missing.

Although he had been provided with Brian McGrath’s dental chart, the teeth and jaw particles found were not from the part of the mouth that had been charted.

The jury looked at photographs of the bones laid out by the doctor at the time, showing how little of the original skeleton remained.

Dr Felle said about a third of the vertebrae had been found, along with 5-10% of the total rib mass. No sternum was found and only a small percentage of the pelvis. There was no collar bone or shoulder blade and none of the left arm was recovered.

The jury also heard from Castlepollard undertaker Michael Cassidy.

He said that in June 1998 Veronica McGrath asked him to organise the removal of her father’s remains, telling him that the gardaí were involved.

He said he brought a coffin to the mortuary in Mullingar Hospital where a garda handed him a half-full bucket of human bones. Mr Cassidy explained that he left while the mortician placed the bones in the coffin and returned to seal it.

He removed the coffin to Coole Church the following day. He did not recall Mrs McGrath being there but remembered Veronica McGrath and the younger members of the family.

“Three neighbours volunteered to dig the grave,” he said, explaining that the funeral Mass took place the next day with burial in Whitehall Cemetery.

Mr Cassidy said that gardaí contacted him again ten years later to show him the grave for exhumation.

The jury saw photos of the opened coffin sitting in the grave in May 2008, the bucket of bones inside.

The trial continues.

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