Clock ticks on Dwyer bid to appeal murder conviction

Graham Dwyer is expected to lodge an appeal today against his conviction for the murder of Elaine O’Hara.

The 42-year-old architect has until close of business to make his intentions known formally to the Court of Criminal Appeal in line with the normal 21-day deadline after sentencing.

He was convicted at the end of March for murdering Ms Hara, 33, for his sexual gratification, and received a mandatory life sentence at his sentencing hearing last month.

After sentence was passed, his defence team applied on his behalf to have his legal aid continued in the event of an appeal.

Around 300 fresh applications are made to the Court of Criminal Appeal each year and the average waiting time between lodging an appeal and having a hearing is about 15 months.

About three-quarters of appeals are against the severity of sentence alone, and around half the remainder against both conviction and sentence.

A small minority appeal conviction alone. As life sentences for murder are mandatory and judges have no discretion to vary them, Dwyer will be focusing solely on the conviction and will have to show that the judge erred in law by allowing the trial to proceed as it did.

Throughout his trial, which lasted more than two months, numerous issues were raised by his defence in legal argument in the absence of the jury and these are expected to form the basis of his appeal.

Ms O’Hara’s remains were found in woodland in the Dublin Mountains in September 2013, more than a year after she disappeared in August 2012. The level of decomposition meant no cause of death could be established.

Prosecutors relied heavily on mobile phone evidence to link Dwyer to Ms O’Hara and to place him in key locations and his defence team challenged the reliability of methods used by technical experts to extract the damning information from mobile phone traffic.

They are expected to revive that challenge in an appeal, and also to question the activities of a senior garda who was not part of the Dwyer investigation but searched bins at Dwyer’s home and extracted DNA from items found there that matched DNA from Ms O’Hara’s mattress.

They also complained about media coverage of Dwyer’s arrest and the leaking of information that it was a sex-related murder.

Dwyer has been in custody since his arrest in October 2013 and is currently an inmate at the Midlands Prison in Portlaoise.

In the past, lifers could expect to serve only about 11 years behind bars but that has risen in recent years and lifers released in 2012 had served on average 22 years.

Without admission of guilt, however, the term can be longer.

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