Gerald Barry was found guilty of the murder of Manuela Riedo today. The Swiss student was found semi-naked throttled to death in October 2007. Barry has denied her her murder throughout, saying that it was the accidental outcome of a casual sexual encounter.
Manuela’s parents had to sit in court and listen to him on the stand describing fondling their daughter’s breasts and vagina – something that simply didn’t happen, at least, not while she was conscious.
She had been heading into Galway City to meet friends the night she died, only three days after she had arrived in Ireland for a two week language course. It was the first time she had been away without her parents, she was only 17.
In an incredibly powerful victim impact statement her father Hans-Peter told the court that he and his wife had always been protective of their only child. “As her father, I often drove out with the car at night to pick her up so that she would arrive safely back home. No way was too long for me to bring her back.”
The courtroom was emotionally charged as he talked about his beautiful and special little girl, the girl who only wanted to help others, who had made particular efforts to include a classmate with a physical handicap in all her activities. He described a Manuela who loved to dance, a girl who “had a special place in the hearts of many people.” She was the centre of her parent’s life, their “sunshine”.
As he read out the statement in German, translated by their garda liaison, Manuela’s mother Arlette clutched a set of rosary beads and wept. There were many in the court who wept as well.
Passing his sentence the trial judge, Mr Justice Barry White was unusually strong. He told Barry he agreed absolutely with the jury’s verdict as would anyone who had read about the case during the trial.
He told Barry that he trusted he had not been “unmoved by the evidence given by Mr Riedo of the devastating impact of his criminal behaviour.” “One often loses sight when somebody loses one’s life violently; that person is somebody’s son or daughter, somebody’s brother or sister, somebody’s grandparent, or somebody’s child.”
It’s unusual to see a trial judge speak so personally after a verdict but this a been a trial that everyone involved, except perhaps Barry himself, has found this a traumatic trial to follow. Judge White also said that the Courts Service had been receiving mail for the Riedos throughout the trial offering messages of sympathy and support. This doesn’t usually happen.
Speaking outside the courtroom in the usual media scrum Hans-Peter and Arlette Riedo thanks the Swiss and Irish authorities and the people who had supported them through what can only have been a horrendously difficult time. Asked how she was coping Manuela’s mother said a little better than she had been but she always had the support of “her man, her husband.”
Throughout the trial they’ve presented an extremely close picture. I’ve sat across from them, in the seat we press shared with the accused and watched Arlette take her husband’s coat from him as they arrived in court after a particularly hard day’s evidence, folding it tenderly and placing it behind him as a cushion. At the more traumatic pieces of evidence they would sit with hands clasped. It’s not often you see a couple that close. It seems all the more unfair that they should lose their only child.
Barry was a tragedy like this waiting to happen we were told today. He grew up in a severely dysfunctional family, and when I say dysfunctional I mean potentially Fritzl level dysfunction. Superintendent P.J Durkan, who gave evidence of Barry’s more serious previous convictions, which I’ll get to in a moment, agreed with defence counsel Martin Giblin that if the social service had got involved with the Barry family when Barry was young we might not have been sitting where we were today.
You hear sob stories every sentence hearing. It’s hardly a surprise that a lot of people up on criminal charges come from less than ideal homes. But ultimately it can only be so much of a defence. Barry had a string of convictions that took quite some time to go through. The most serious three gave an indication of someone with little or no respect for human life.
In 1996 Colm Phelan, was attacked on Eyres Square in Galway. He died from his injuries. Barry was one of five people who were charged with “violent disorder” and the only who didn’t plead guilty.
Two years later he broke into the house of an elderly man who only had sight in one eye. After Barry had finished with him he was blind.
Then in 2006 he was given six months for a sexual assault on his then partner. An accident waiting to happen or a loose cannon? Barry was definitely heading for a bad end.
As Manuela’s parents told the press outside the Four Courts after the verdict, Ireland is a safer place tonight. Irish children, Irish women are safer.