Abigail Rieley

Writer and Author

A Fair and Swift Verdict

The jury only took half an hour to return their verdict on whether Ann Burke, who hit her husband Pat 23 times over the head with a hammer while he slept, was guilty of murder or manslaughter.

The verdict, when it came was the expected one.  Both prosecution and defence were in agreement on the facts of the case and the psychiatrists both sides had produced to give evidence were agreed that Ann Burke was suffering from a mental disorder at the time of the killing.  The verdict of not guilty by reason of diminished responsibility was a logical one, given the evidence in the trial.

The jury were at liberty to come to a range of verdicts from acquittal right through to murder but even the defence informed them that there was no doubt this was an unlawful killing and as such should result in some form of guilty verdict.

The trial was a brief one, only one garda gave evidence, rather than the endless procession you will usually find in a murder trial.  Even the post mortem evidence was simply read into the record since there was no debate about it’s findings.  The only other kind of murder trial that generally moves this quickly is one where the verdict is not guilty by reason of insanity.

In this case, both sides were careful to tell the jury, insanity was not an issue.  Ann Burke had suffered from a severe depressive illness at the time of the killing but this was not counted as insanity.  But in both sorts of trials, when both side agree on the medical diagnosis, the jury is instructed more than usual.

In a standard murder trial a jury is free to weigh up the evidence put before them and come to any one of the available verdicts.  These will usually be acquittal, manslaughter or murder.  Frequently it’s difficult to tell what the outcome will be, the evidence must be weighed carefully and the line between the options isn’t always clear cut.

But in cases where there’s a solid psychiatric diagnosis like this one, the verdict is almost a foregone conclusion.  The jury must be the one’s to make the final decision.  There’s only one situation where the judge will tell them to sign the issue paper a certain way and that’s when, for various reasons, the prosecution case has a serious undeniable flaw and the judge decides the only option is an acquittal.  If the verdict is to be a guilty one then the accused still has a right to be judged by a jury of their peers.

Ann Burke will get to spend Christmas with her family before she is sentenced on January 25th.  In the meantime a psychiatric report will be prepared and victim impact statements made by her family.


2 Comments

  1. What is her sentence likely to be? It sounds as if your legal system is still a bit more functional than what we have here in the USA…here you can get away with a lot depending on your defense, how important / famous you are, and any number of other circumstances.

    It sounds as if both this woman AND her husband got what they deserved, after reading the entire case as you’ve presented it.

    • Abigail

      10th December 2009 at 5:43 pm

      The average sentence for manslaughter here is around 7 or 8 years but in this case I’ve no idea what the judge is going to give her. Technically it can be anywhere between life and a non custodial sentence and I’ve never covered a trial with this judge before so don’t know what he’s like with sentences.
      In general the system here is pretty fair. There’s the odd case when surprising people walk but that tends to be down to sudden amnesia in a large number of witnesses rather than fame. On the whole though when you work the courts here you tend to think that the system actually does work.

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