The Melissa Mahon jury have gone home for a second night…and we are no closer to finding out whether they will convict or acquit Ronnie Dunbar.
He denies murdering the Sligo teenager in September 2006 and also threatening to kill his daughter Samantha Conroy.
Today was a frustrating one even by the standards of jury waits. I’ve no idea how it was for the jury but for the rest of us it was a day of waiting and moving about and waiting some more. The jury resumed their deliberations this morning at around 10.45 and we settled down to passing the time.
The knock came at around midday that put an end to the tranquillity of the waiting process. The jury had a question. We all reassembled glad of the break. That’s when the trouble began. They wanted to see the video footage of Samantha’s evidence, specifically the part of her cross examination when she was asked about statements made by her younger sister that conflicted with her account.
Now the playing back of video evidence is a fairly unusual request. For starters video evidence doesn’t usually exist. All court proceedings are audio recorded but only when the evidence is given by video link does a visual record exist. Since Samantha gave her evidence in this way it was a reasonable request from the jury.
Nothing was going to be that simple though so the jury were sent away to an early lunch while the technical practicalities were dealt with.
Because of the peculiarities of the technological set up in the Four Courts, video link evidence can only be heard in one of two courtrooms. Court 16, where we initially heard Samantha’s evidence and Court 23. Court 16 was otherwise occupied so we all trooped over to Court 23.
Court 23 is in a building of it’s own across the yard in the centre of the courts complex. So after lunch we all trooped over and took our seats. It took until around 3 o’clock before the jury were called back to see the evidence they had requested.
We sat and watched the evidence. Once again we saw Samantha, caught from an unflattering angle below, with her head cocked to one side as she answered the questions put to her by defence counsel Brendan Grehan, who appeared in a little box at the side of the screen.
Once again we heard her answers as her sister’s statement was read out to her, the definite shake of the head as she said certain things didn’t happen, the quizzical frown at the things she said she couldn’t remember. The jury listened intently, every now and then murmuring amongst themselves as the recording played out.
After about half an hour the section finished and we waited to see them sent out again. But the foreman spoke up – there was another bit they wanted to see, a further section of cross examination from the previous Friday to the evidence we had just heard. This bit was when Samantha was asked about another statement her sister had made, in which she claimed that Melissa had died downstairs in the house after being strangled by herself, Samantha and their father.
This request meant that the jury were sent back to their room and proceedings once again stopped. After a delay of some 45 minutes they were brought back in. The judge, Mr Justice Barry White, told them there was a problem. The discs the evidence was recorded on were not labelled with the date and time they had been recorded. It had taken some time to find the relevant evidence. But once found it was discovered that an audio only copy existed. For the moment at least, there were no pictures.
The matter couldn’t be sorted out this afternoon. It would take time to find a solution. So the jury were sent to their homes at a little after 4. And tomorrow we’ll assemble back in Court 2 to find out where we’ll be hearing the evidence.
This is turning into a very long jury wait.