Court quashes Cahoon murder conviction

A man who had been jailed for life for the murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend has had his conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal.

Stephen Cahoon, aged 42, with a last address at Harvey St, Derry, admitted strangling mother-of-four Jean Teresa Quigley, aged 30, on July 26, 2008, but denied it was murder.

A jury unanimously found him guilty of murder at the Central Criminal Court on April 30, 2012, and he was immediately sentenced to life imprisonment by Mr Justice Barry White.

The Court of Appeal quashed his conviction yesterday, ordered a retrial and remanded him in custody.

However, counsel for Mr Cahoon, Niall Flynn , said a retrial would be his client’s third trial on the matter in circumstances where he had already served six years in custody. In those circumstances it would be unfair and an application in that regard may be forthcoming, the court heard.

Mr Cahoon’s successful ground of appeal, submitted by his counsel Michael O’Higgins, was that the trial judge misdirected the jury while explaining the defence of provocation.

Mr Justice White had told the jury, Mr O’Higgins said, that the concept of provocation could not involve intention because a person is not a master of their own mind when they lose self control. “Having regard to provocation or loss of self control, no such intent is there,” Mr Justice White had told the jury.

In its judgment delivered yesterday, Mr Justice Seán Ryan said “it was a mistake on a central if not the central point of the whole case”. He said it was “a small number of words” used by the judge after he gave a substantial direction on the law and facts of the case. It was not sufficient to answer the appeal by finding that “words were few and might not have had an impact”. The court would have to be satisfied the words did not actually influence the jury, the judgment stated.

These words came in the course of a brief re-charge just before the jury retired to consider their verdict and it was “at least arguable that their location in the scheme of the judge’s instructions gave them a prominence they might not otherwise have had,” according to the judgment.

Mr Cahoon was remanded in custody to April 13.


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