There were a lot doctors taking the stand today. It’s day three of the trial of Finn Colclough, and we’ve been hearing more of two sad young lives.
Professor Marie Cassidy was up first this afternoon, something of a celebrity in the confines of the Central Criminal Court. Every trial that centres around a death has to hear post mortem evidence and that’s given by either Dr Cassidy, the State Pathologist or her Deputy Dr Michael Curtis.
She’s well practiced at giving evidence in terms that both a jury and the media can easily digest and her reports can give an impression of the person that lived rather than the body she examined. Today she told us her findings from the body of Sean Nolan.
His family sat silently as she gave her evidence. His mother Charlotte was absent for the first time since the jury was sworn in, unable to listen to her son reduced to a list of biological attributes.
The hot, packed courtroom was quiet as she described a healthy young man, six feet tall with closely cropped dark hair, dead from a 17cm deep wound that had cut in under his fifth rib, puncturing a lung and cutting into his heart.
Even when you listen to post mortem results on a regular basis they never cease to shock. They underline how fragile we human beings are; that only mild to moderate force is needed to take a sharp knife 17cms into a person’s ribcage.
Most poignant today was a detail mentioned and discarded – an ink stamp on the back of Sean’s right hand. It was the one detail that reminded us that Sean Nolan was just a kid who had finished secondary school that day. But his celebrations would reach a tragic conclusion once he took the decision to call on a girl he used to know. Never a good idea once it get’s past 2 in the morning…
Even more stark was the bloodied clothing, held up for the jury to see the cuts that the knife or knives had made. His families faces froze as a bloodied white vest was held up, ripped to pieces by the medical personnel who had fought to save his life.
The accused breathed heavily as he hung his head – he hasn’t raised it throughout the trial. His father, sitting beside him stared straight ahead. Only his mother, the cookery teacher Alix Gardner, whose knives had caused the tears we were being shown, stared grimly at the stiff material, not taking her eyes away as first the vest then the grey shirt were shown.
Later on we heard another doctor tell us another history. Not Sean Nolan this time but Finn Colclough, a witness for the defence called out of turn due to logistical difficulties.
We all trouped upstairs to the tiny Court 16, one of the few places the Central Criminal Court sits that had accommodate a video link. The problem was that the witness we would be hearing from, Dr Paul O’Connell was on the other side of the world and there was a brief window where time and technology would allow him to speak to a jury in Dublin.
Court 16 is much smaller than our usual home in Court 1 and there was standing room only even for families. So surrounded by boxes of documents from civil cases we pressed into the room to listen to the words but no pictures.
Dr O’Connell is, like Professor Cassidy, no stranger to the Four Courts. He’s one of the the top doctors in the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum and gets called in to assess prisoners in the Midlands and Portlaoise prisons. He’s a frequent expert witness whenever matters of mental stability come into play.
Today his function was slightly different. He wasn’t being asked to prove insanity, merely illustrate the “background and baggage” that Finn Colclough had been carrying around the time of that night last May.
Suddenly the oddly protective attitude shown by some of his friends when they took the stand was explained. Finn it seems had been dealing with a condition for most of his life that had dragged him through five separate primary schools and added nine hours to his school week.
As the transcontinental connection whistled and boomed, Dr O’Connell’s disembodied voice told us that Finn had been diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of four. Six years later it was confirmed that he also suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, leading him to anxiously wash the cutlery again and again and again and use five cans of Dettol on the floor every night as he tried to get the dirt of the outside world off his shoes.
We learnt that 13-year-old Finn had been taking double to standard adult dose of Prozac and had also been on an anti-psychotic Risperidone. He’d been in treatment for years and had been responding well, to the extent that he’d finished his medication and his treatment six months before the incident that brought him to court.
The jury were warned not to take any conclusions away about what this evidence suggested until they had been properly charged by the judge. This was evidence out of turn as often happens in trials when witnesses have limited availability. But the impression was left from today’s evidence of two fragile young people for whom a night out ended in disaster.