The court listened quietly as the Chief State Pathologist Marie Cassidy ran through her findings. What emerged was a disturbing picture of Manuela Riedo’s last hours or minutes.
The 17-year-old’s mud stained, semi-naked body was found dumped in bushes near a desolate shortcut into Galway City from Renmore where she was staying for the two weeks she was to be in Ireland. She had died from asphyxiation, most probably from an arm pressed against her throat, so hard it had left an impression of the thin gold chain she wore with it’s two small crosses.
Martin Tierney, her host for her brief stay, told the court he had warned her not to take the short cut into town. It cut through waste ground near the railway tracks and even in daylight was a desolate place. It was safe enough to walk through in a group but it was wiser not to walk there alone, especially not at night.
Tragically Manuela didn’t take his advice. The last time he saw her was when she stuck her head round the door of the living room, where he was watching television with his sons, to say she was heading out to meet friends in the King’s Head Pub in Galway city. That was the last time she was seen alive.
Her friend Azaria Maurer broke down into tears as she told the court she had been due to meet Manuela at the pub instead of meeting by the barracks that marked the beginning of the shortcut. They had met here every time they had headed into town after learning about the short cut on their second day in Galway, the day before Manuela’s death.
Photographs taken from Manuela’s digital camera, which was found under the mattress of the accused’s bed, show the two girls smiling outside a traditional Irish pub. The last photograph, taken on the day of her disappearance was of the classroom where she was supposed to be learning English.
She had spent that Monday in lessons before meeting up in the King’s Head with friends scattered around Galway’s other language schools. She arrived home and had dinner at the Tierney house before making her fatal decision to take the short cut back into town.
The post mortem report always follows a set pattern, systematic and thorough. It examines from the outside in and from the top of the head down to the soles of the feet. Everything is looked at and all minor injuries and imperfections are noted. It can be a bewildering litany of the scrapes and bumps we encounter as we move through the world somewhere in the middle of which hide the grimmer facts of the case.
Manuela Riedo had a lot of superficial injuries. Her body was covered in fresh bruises and scrapes, possibly caused as her body was dragged through the sharp undergrowth to the place her body was found. Scenes of crimes officers described strands of dark blond hair snagged in the bushes from the upper path she would have taken down into the bushes.
There were four separate injuries to her head, consistent with slaps or punches. Her father Hans-Peter wept, held tightly by her mother Arlette, as Professor Cassidy turned to the sexual injuries his daughter had received, scrapes to the vaginal area and the horrific “unusual injury” that lead to much cross-examination and reexamination.
This injury was the one that led to gruesome discussions of the relative features of animal bite marks and the work of a human wielding a knife. When Manuela’s body was found a piece of skin 5 centimetres by seven was missing from her groin area. It had been removed after she had died. The top of the wound was perfectly smooth and inconsistent with the work of wild animals. We were told in some detail about the difficulty of removing skin from an area with a natural crease. It’s one of those things I really would rather be unaware of.
Her clothes had been discarded on the way to the clearing where her body was found. Her outer clothing and her distinctive cherry covered bag were found closer to the pathway while her shoes and socks were placed near the body. In the bushes nearby gardai found her underwear and a used condom snagged on a branch…it’s contents secured by a knot.
I’m not seeking to be sensational here. I’m not being gratuitous. These were the injuries she suffered and that her parents listened to as the post mortem evidence unfolded. The details of a violent death are never pleasant.