A Westmeath man has been found not guilty of raping a woman after they met at a New Years Eve ball at a GAA clubhouse, in what was the first jury trial to conclude at the Central Criminal Court since the Covid-19 lockdown.
The 33-year-old man had pleaded not guilty to rape at his home in Westmeath on January 1, 2017.
The complainant was visiting a friend and had planned to spend the night in that woman's home after going to a ball in the local GAA clubhouse. She met the accused, who was of a similar age, and they were kissing in the clubhouse.
She told the jury that towards the end of the night she couldn't find her friend and her mobile phone had gone dead. She said she decided she had no other option but to accept an invitation to the man's house.
She said that she told him there would be no sexual activity and he agreed but that minutes after entering his home he attacked and raped her in his sitting room. She said she was kicking out at him and telling him to stop and afterwards she was crying hysterically.
The accused told the jury that he and the woman never discussed what would happen in the house in advance of going back and that all sexual activity that night was consensual. His lawyers submitted that his mother was sleeping upstairs and heard no noises from the sitting room.
After a 10-day trial, the jury of five women and seven men spent three hours and 38 minutes in deliberations. Today, the jury came back with a unanimous verdict of not guilty.
Wearing a navy suit and tie, the man collapsed into his arms and took a deep breath when the verdict was read out.
Mr Justice Paul McDermott said he was particularly grateful to the jury for their service during the Covid-19 pandemic when the country was trying to “come back from lockdown”. This was the first trial to conclude since “lockdown”, the judge added.
Mr Justice McDermott said the courts were applying public health advice during the trial process, which helped the courts prepare for reconvened trials due to take place in September.
“So I thank you for that, particularly because it was more difficult in the circumstances,” the judge said to the jury before offering them an exemption from jury duty for five years.
The accused was then discharged and walked free from court.
In her closing speech for the prosecution, Orla Crowe SC told the jury that the complainant described a sudden violent attack where she was clearly resisting. Her evidence was that after he raped her, the man sat on the couch with his head in his hands and kept saying “oh my god, I'm sorry”.
The man's evidence was that he apologised to the woman because she became upset after they had penetrative sex but that his apology was to calm her down and wasn't an admission of guilt, Ms Crowe said.
He claimed in evidence that he didn't “fully penetrate her” and that this only lasted about 20 seconds. Ms Crowe put it to him that he had changed his account since telling gardaí there was vaginal penetration.
She said the woman's evidence was that her mobile phone had broken down on the night and she couldn't contact the female friend who she had arranged to stay the night with. A male friend told the jury that the complainant's phone was an old model and was always breaking down.
Ms Crowe told the jury that the medical evidence was that some of the bruising found on the woman's body on January 2 could be consistent with details of her account. She said that the woman's account of the evening was clear and consistent and the jury could accept it beyond a reasonable doubt.
In her closing for the defence, Caroline Biggs SC said that her client had told gardaí that after sex the woman became upset and started sobbing and he apologised repeatedly to her.
She asked the jury to consider if he was going to tell gardaí these things if he had committed “a terrible wrongdoing” and she submitted these statements were “suggestive of honesty”.
She said there were material inconsistencies between the woman's account and two other witnesses called by the prosecution. She said the man's brother-in-law, who picked the couple up from the clubhouse and drove them to his house, gave evidence that he offered to drop the woman “home” but she told him she was going back to the defendant's house.
The complainant denied this and also denied that she and the accused were kissing in the car or outside the house, as described by the brother-in-law.
Ms Biggs also asked the jury to consider the evidence of the complainant's female friend who said that the victim arrived at her home the next morning and burst into tears.
Counsel said that the evidence that the complainant said “I think I was raped” doesn't tally with the account she had given of a violent and brutal attack. She said her friend testified that the complainant seemed confused “as if she didn't know what had happened”.
“If this violent brutal rape occurred, involving kicking and slapping away [the defendant], how could you possibly be confused about anything. How could you possibly not know that was a rape?” Ms Biggs asked.