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Tag: Manuela Riedo (Page 2 of 3)

Murderers and Rapists and Some Figures

It’s been a long week and I haven’t been posting here as often as I should.  I’ve missed a couple of court related things that I had meant to write up and apologies for that.

On Thursday for example the Court Service launched their annual report – big news when you’re in my line of work.  I’ve linked to the synopsis of the main figures so I won’t go into them in detail but the one I was most concerned with was the murder stats.  They were up once again, not because of an increase in murders, but because of the rate at which the courts are dealing with them.  Since murders are my bread and butter work this was good news for me…and I know that other rises have been a cause of relief to colleagues who work in other areas as well.

I wasn’t around to write about the figures because I had to make a trip down to Galway for the sentencing of Gerald Barry for rape.  He was sentenced on Friday to two life sentences.  He’s already serving one for the murder of Manuela Riedo, the Swiss student he killed only eight weeks after this rape.

He will serve all three sentences at once, rather than one after the other.  That’s the way sentences work here.  Most will be concurrent, unless the crime was committed while on bail for a separate offence.  It’s not a great rule and with an animal like Barry it just doesn’t seem fair.

Judge Paul Carney was extremely outspoken in his sentencing.  He told Barry that he did not deserve to have the 25% off that every convicted man or women can look forward to as a carrot to encourage good behaviour in jail.  This is another point on Irish sentencing that can be extremely hard to explain to those not familiar with the workings of Irish courts.

Why should someone who has killed someone in cold blood be entitled to the knowledge that the sentence they are handed will automatically be shorter than the one read out in court?  It’s one of those things, like the fact that Irish judges cannot give a recommendation on the minimum part of a life sentence that should be served before the convicted is allowed to be eligible for bail.  This is the situation in the UK but not here…an Irish life sentence can be as little as 12 years…but that’s something for another day.

All in all it’s been a very busy week.  Next week the courts rise for their summer vacation and I will be back at the keyboard working on this year’s book.  I must admit I’m looking forward to it.

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A Savage Animal

Gerald Barry was today facing a life sentence for the second time this year.  He is already serving a mandatory life sentence for the murder of Swiss student Manuela Riedo in Galway in September 2007.

Today we heard, in chilling detail, how just eight weeks previously he had brutally raped a 21-year-old French student.  There were haunting similarities between the two attacks and the graphic account given by the first victim must to some extent mirrored how Manuela spent her final hours.

The victim of the rape, a few years older than the Swiss girl, had been out with friends that night.  At the end of the night, not being able to find a taxi, she decided to walk home.  As she was walking through the Mervue area of Galway she passed a man.  A few steps later she realised he was following her.

Barry grabbed her by her hair and pressed something she thought was a knife to her throat.  Then he dragged her into the grounds of a local GAA club and subjected her to a horrific rape.

He repeatedly both orally and anally raped her while he threatened to kill her if she tried to escape.  During the attack he also asked her if she was enjoying it.  After the final anal rape he saw that she was bleeding and told her “Hey, you’re bleeding.  Great.”

In a victim impact statement read to the court the student, who was not present in court, said she was still coming to terms with what had happened to her.  She said that she was receiving counselling but could only get as far as the moment Barry had grabbed her because the memory of the rape itself was still too painful.

She called Barry a predator, “He is not a human or a man. He is a liar, a rapist and a murderer. I beg you not to let him out because he will do it again.”  The woman said that she still felt very insecure whenever anyone came up behind her or touched her back or her neck.

She told gardai that she could not work out why she was still alive, why Barry hadn’t killed her as he would later kill Manuela.  “I am surprised that I am still alive. Why was I let go? Why I am still breathing?”

The woman also criticised media coverage of her ordeal.  She said “It happened to me, not to them” and said that the media did not understand the harm they did to others.  I’ve noticed that line has not been widely reported by my colleagues.  We don’t listen to these details or write them up for some kind of gratuitous entertainment.  The public have the right to know that animals like Barry walk around and do harm to people.  If we gloss over the details of their crimes we absolve them of the full horror of their actions.

Barry is undoubtedly a menace to society.  If people don’t know what he is capable of then they might not see quite how much of a menace he actually is.

Less than two months after he had raped the now 23-year-old woman he was to murder Manuela Riedo.  Then he would also have been visiting an ex girlfriend.  He would also make a pretense that the encounter was consensual, although in Manuela’s case he said this to gardai – we will never know if he aid as much to his victim.

Gardai were still investigating the rape when Manuela took her final walk home.  The rest is tragically known.

Judge Paul Carney has asked whether he has the option of imposing a life sentence, the very highest sentence allowable for the very worst kind of rape.  He will pass his sentence on Friday in Galway.  It remains to be seen just how severe a sentence he hands down.

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Killers of Little Girls

Ronnie Dunbar’s women were all over the media today.  Melissa Mahon, who the jury yesterday convicted him of killing, his daughters, Shirley, Samantha and their younger sister, whose testimony helped to convict him.  The Herald carried an interview with the girl’s mother, Lisa Conroy, speaking of her life of hell with Ronnie from her home in London. She told the paper that she had met Ronnie when she was a vulnerable 15-year-old who looked to Ronnie as her “knight in shining armour”, ready to sweep her away from the care home she hated…an obviously mirroring of Melissa’s infatuation talked about at length during the trial.

Most of the papers also carried big pictures of Ruth Nooney, who gave evidence during the trial about some of Dunbar’s more bizarre beliefs – that he would become the king of a new world order.  She spoke, apparently to anyone who would listen, about her reignited love for Ronnie and her wish to marry him so that they could be a family together with the child she had born him.

The coverage suggested a harem of damaged, vulnerable women, some of whom had survived, others who had remained under his spell.  There was no doubt to anyone who sat through the court case that Dunbar is something of a control freak…the constant stream of notes he passed to his defence team were a constant reminder.  The parade of women who appeared in the pages of this morning’s papers underline this further.

Dunbar wasn’t the only killer of a young girl to make the news today.  Gerald Barry, who was convicted of the murder of Swiss student Manuela Riedo a couple of months ago, today pleaded guilty to the rape of a French student only two months before he took Manuela’s life.

Manuela and Melissa were two very different teenagers.  17-year-old Manuela was the only child of doting parents who had let travel without them for the first time in her life for that ill fated trip to Galway.  Melissa, three years her junior, had lived more in her short life than Manuela ever had a chance to.  The youngest of ten children, with parents who had a far more detached attitude to child rearing, she was on a rapid downward spiral for the last months of her life.

Yet despite the differences, obvious though they may be, both girls are now dead at the hands of predatory men.  Barry is the kind of sex killer little girls are warned about the way children in more innocent times were threatened with the bogey man.  Dunbar is a danger of a far more subtle kind.  A man who could appear a knight in shining armour but who didn’t limit his relationship to the purely paternal.  The jury found him guilty of manslaughter, unable to find the intent necessary for a murder conviction but satisfied he was responsible for Melissa’s death.

In fairly quick succession we have heard the tales of two young deaths.  I hope it’s a long time before I have to cover another trial where the victim is so young, with so much life ahead of them.

The Depressing Monotony of Murder

So the inquest of Swiss student Manuela Riedo took place in Galway yesterday.  Earlier this year Gerald Barry was convicted of her murder after one of the most emotional trials I’ve ever covered.

The 17-year-old had only been in Ireland for three days when Barry dragged her off the path she was taking to meet friends in Galway city and horrifically raped and murdered her.  From the time of the murder this was a crime that caused utter outrage across the country.  It has scarcely been out of the news since Barry was found guilty with news that an Irish businessman had donated money to set up a foundation in her memory.  There’s to be a fund-raising concert in her home town of Bern later in the summer and her parents were back in Ireland only last week to launch the foundation.

They have been back to Galway many times since their daughter’s death and after the trial spoke of the firm friendships they’ve made there and the people who supported them.  They weren’t at the inquest.  I don’t blame them.  During the trial I wrote about her father’s tears as he spent his birthday listening to the post mortem evidence.  Manuela was Hans Peter and Arlette Riedo’s only child.  The trip to Galway was her first trip alone.  It was an unspeakable tragedy that she should have encountered an animal like Barry on that trip.

The inquest jury warned against taking the shortcut Manuela took that night.  During the trial there were several journos who knew Galway well, all knew the route known locally as the Line, knew how desolate it was in broad daylight, let alone after dark.  The days when you could walk the isolated byways of Ireland in safety are long gone – if they were ever there in the first place and not simply the product of sugar coated nostalgia.

It would be naive to think that murder and rape only became an issue in Ireland in recent years.  Of course they didn’t.  But it’s an undeniable fact that they have become a more frequent occurrence than they may have been in simpler times.  When I first started working in the courts I worked for a specialist news agency down there.  My boss told me that when he started that beat, over twenty years ago the agency could tick over with just him and maybe one other person.  Murders were few and far between – noted events when they happened.

These days there will frequently be as many as three happening at once.  This week for example there was the Ronnie Dunbar trial, the trial of Gary Campion, who’s accused of a murder in Limerick (that one’s been going for over two months out in Clover Hill) and Noel Cawley who’s accused of killing a pensioner in a robbery.  That’s just the murders – there are even more rapes going through the courts.

I’m not going into why there are so many more serious crimes going through the courts.  There are a multitude of reasons, some obvious, some less so, some proven, others mere speculation. But the fact remains that the prevalence of these cases is a fact of modern life.  We know about the growth of gang violence, that accounts for some of it.  Random, drunken fights that went too far is another factor.  Money increasingly seems to play a part.  When it comes down to it though people kill for the same reasons they always have.  If these days there is less value placed on human life…well as I say, I’m not getting into that here – it pays the bills after all.

It’s sad that these days murder is no longer so unusual that any loss of life is a news event.  Dozens of trials pass through the courts that get little or no media attention.  They are usually the trials where drink was involved, and young men with volatile tempers. Trials that are in danger of blending into one another after a while if you watch enough of them.  It’s easy to forget when you cover nothing but murder that each death is a private tragedy for the families involved.  It’s easy to dehumanise the accused, to make assumptions.

Some trials will always get more interest, they have a “hook” to pique the interest of the media.  It could be the victim, a pretty schoolgirl like Manuela or an attractive young mother like Rachel O’Reilly.  It could be fact the accused came from a background where violence is less likely to be so overt, like Dublin 4 resident Finn Colclough or the killing of Brian Murphy outside Annabel’s nightclub.  These are the trial that make the headlines, the one’s I’ll usually be covering, but there are many others that don’t register.

When I was working for the agency I got to see the other trials.  The ones that go on in empty courtrooms while the main event is happening on the other side of the Round Hall.  I would usually be the only journalist there.  The stories I wrote each evening would often not be used.  But each trial was the story of a life that had been cut short, at the wrong time, by someone who didn’t have the right to do so.  A violent death is always a tragedy.  It’s just not always a story…sadly.

The Fourth Estate in Irish Courts

Going into work yesterday was a little like being in school out of term.  The Four Courts are buzzing any time they are in session and the quietness is particularly roaring out of hours.  I’ve been to Saturday sittings before as well as Vacation Sittings (held during the two month summer recess) and always enjoy being in the building when the throng is noticeably absent.

Yesterday, there to wait for the jury in the Manuela Riedo trial to come to their verdict, it was one thing after another.  A couple of things happened that really highlighted something that has irritated me for years…the attitude to the media here in Ireland.

Now I know there are places on earth where the authorities are a damn sight worse than here in Dublin, places where journalists work in danger of their life.  I’m not suggesting I work in a repressive regime just that things aren’t as easy as they should be.

The main thing that happened yesterday that underlines my point was not particularly unexpected.  In fact it happens on quite a regular basis if you work out of the courts.  It shouldn’t…but it does.

We had taken our seats for the jury to resume their deliberations.  As we had for the duration of the trial we all piled into the two benches where the accused sits.  This is normal.  There are no such things as press benches in the main courts of the Four Courts.  It’s not like the English courts where a press bench is standard.  We have to find space wherever we can but as press we’re allowed a much freeer reign than the public who have two allotted areas to watch justice being done from.

Usually the media sit either in the two benches behind the barristers or next to the accused.  We have to hear what’s being said and since the acoustics in the 200 year old building leave something to be desired sitting as close to the judge as possible is preferable.  If there are a lot of garda witnesses or the deceased in a murder trial had a large family the benches behind the barristers aren’t free.  If the case is full of salacious detail the public benches fill up quickly as well.  That leaves the seat beside the accused facing the jury.

Now to be honest this is probably the pick of the bunch anyway.  The accused has to be able to hear what’ s being said about him so you can hear everything that’s said.  Similarly you have a good vantage point to see reactions and the kind of details you need if you’re writing colour.  There’s also a handy ledge that’s just right for a laptop or a computer.

It sounds, if you haven’t seen the courts, as if this means that we’re sitting on top of the accused.  It’s not quite like that, these benches were designed to hold bunches of accused so they could potentially hold up to 20 people, if everyone squished a bit.  These days, to give the accused a bit of space there wouldn’t be more than 10 of us sitting there.  But sit there we do.  The judge doesn’t complain, the defence don’t complain, the accused doesn’t complain.  They all realise we’re just there to do our job.

That’s the way it usually is.  But not yesterday.  Yesterday we’d piled in as usual, leaving a large gap between us and Gerald Barry (as suggested by the regular prison guards since he had been known to lunge).  The judge came in and sent the jury out again and we all settled down to wait.

Barry had been led back to his cell.  He was in custody throughout the trial – he’s not a very  nice man.  We settled back with laptops, coffee and papers to wait it out.  The regular prison officers weren’t in yesterday.  It being a weekend.  The guys who were in looked at us with contempt.  We were cluttering up their nice courtroom with our junk.

One of them came over.

“Guys, seriously, the accused man deserves a fair trial.  Youse shouldn’t be sitting there crowding him.  You’re right across from the jury.”

“Yes, we know.  We’ve been sitting here all week.  We always sit here.”

“You shouldn’t be sitting there.  It’s not right.”

And on it went for several minutes gathering more and more angry journos to argue the toss.  Eventually we were left as we were, now rather irritated.  We had been sitting there all week and we most definitely had not been crowding the accused.  We’d been told not to by the weekday prison officers.  For our own safety.

It might have been a storm in a teacup but it really isn’t an isolated occurrence.  Earlier in the week we had been excluded for court while the defence looked for a day’s recess.  Not only were the jury present while this request was granted, the press are allowed to sit through legal arguement (though we usually choose not to since we can’t write anything when the jury’s not in place).

Over the past two years while I’ve been down in the courts I’ve encountered this kind of attitude more than once.  Prison officers who’ve tried to exclude me from rape cases (that happens quite a bit and has sometimes required the judge’s intervention), the whole court personnel moving into the judges chambers to hear evidence and having the door shut in my face.  Gardai who’ve confiscated computers because they could secretly broadcast proceedings.

You really have to know what you are and what you are entitled to if you work that beat here in Ireland.  As happened yesterday the familiarity of the challenge can result in quite a bolshie response but for god’s sake, we shouldn’t have to fight for our right to cover public court proceedings (and in the case of “in camera” cases like rape, we stand for the public who aren’t allowed in out of deference to the sensitivity of the evidence.

Justice is supposed to be done in public and that means that the general public should be able to read it when it comes wrapping their fish and chips, or listen to it or watch it.  It’s a pretty basic right and it’s mixed up in a person’s right to a fair trial.  It’s important.

Which makes it so irritating when the powers that be don’t seem to understand this.  There is a definite attitude out there that the media are vermin who should be at the very least discouraged,  at worst banned entirely.

Last year a debate took place, I think, in the Sugar Club in Dublin.  It was organised by one of the legal organisations and the motion was whether or not the media were out of control.  I don’t have the full details because the media were not invited.  Not one of the journalists who work in the Four Courts on a daily basis was invited and the owners of the two new agencies are there on a permanent basis were not even informed.  Only one poster went up and that was on the day of the debate itself.

We heard about it over the next few days though.  Apparently the event was mainly attended by newly qualified barristers who did not think much of the media as a whole.  The one account that appeared in the press (which I’ve been unable to locate but will post if I ever do) described a baying mob calling for the media’s blood in the wake of the sensationalist coverage of trials like Joe O’Reilly and Brian Kearney.

OK the coverage has got somewhat lurid on some occasions but that’s the nature of the press.  When that has happened editors have been called in and knuckles have been rapped by the judge.  But that’s obviously not enough for some people.

I get on well with a lot of barristers and court staff who I’ve got to know over the past couple of years.  We all understand that we each have a role to play and it’s easier to do that if everyone plays nicely together.  Apart from anything else, when you’ve waited hours upon hours for juries to come back the barriers tend to come down.

But some of the younger barristers treat us with suspicion and some of the Courts Service staff treat us like cockroaches.  Getting some information or facilities can be like getting blood out of a stone.  Almost any journalist I know who has had occasion to deal with different justice systems has stories about how wonderful it is to deal with press offices anywhere else.  When I was researching Devil I couldn’t believe how easy it was to get court documents in the U.S.  Here we’re dependent on the whims of the individual teams.

It’s easy to feel as if we are only allowed in on sufferance.  The absence of press benches wasn’t an oversight it was simply because someone felt then, as now, that the media didn’t have a place in the courts.

And just to make it very clear. I’m not hitting out at any of the wonderful staff who help get my job done on a daily basis.  This is just something that exists underlying things.  An attitude that seems to be fairly endemic in certain quarters.  This is a rant about that perception.  If it’s allowed to spread it could be very damaging not only to the Irish media but also to Irish justice.  Justice needs to be done in public, as does politics but that’s another matter entirely.  We forget that at our peril.

Justice Is Served

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.

A Tragic Accident Not A Murder

“I told her I thought she was beautiful and I leaned in and kissed her.”

So Gerald Barry described how a chance meeting developed into a sexual encounter.  The 29-year-old is accused of the murder of Swiss teenager Manuela Riedo.  Today, speaking in his own defence he told the court that the sex was consensual and her death a tragic accident.

Manuela’s mother broke down in tears as he described meeting her 17-year-old daughter near a shop in Renmore.  He said they struck up a conversation then after around 20 minutes had sex in a grassy spot near Lough Atalia in Galway.

Afterwards, he told the court, she got up to go and meet her friends in Galway City but he pulled her back down to spend more time with him.  It was then he said, as he hooked his arm around her neck to pull her down, that he accidentally throttled her.

He said that Manuela had been walking in the wrong direction from town so he showed her the right route to the shortcut she had used several times in the couple of days she had spent in Galway, there for a two week language class with her classmates.

They started talking after she had asked him for the time although didn’t say much as they walked towards “The Line”, a walkway that ran alongside the railway tracks.

Barry said he showed her how to get up to the path then sat down on a telegraph pole and skinned up a joint.  After a couple of minutes she came back and sat beside him.  She asked him why he was smoking.  “I told her I liked the buzz.  It relaxes me.”

Moments later he said he told her she was beautiful and they started kissing and “fondling”.  They put their coats on the ground and lay down on them and had sex.

He said it was afterwards when they were lying together she sat up and talked about leaving.  He had asked her was she cold but she replied it was far colder in Switzerland.  He said he hadn’t thought he used any force when he pulled her back down but she just “slid down” and he realised she wasn’t breathing.

It was then, he said that he dragged her body into the bushes and put her jacket over her “out of respect”.

He could not explain why a button that matched the ones on her coat was found on the upper path or why long blond hairs were found snagged on the bushes from that path down to the spot her body was found.  He told the prosecution barrister Una Kennedy that he had no idea how she got an injury to the back of her head or how a piece of skin two inches by three had come to be cut from her pubic area.

He said that he had not thrown a condom into bushes nearby the body in the hope that it would be taken away by the tidal lough nearby or that he had urinated it it in an attempt to dilute any DNA evidence.  He had urinated because he was scared he said, no other reason.

Barry said he had lied to gardai because he was hoping that if he continued to deny everything it would just go away.

It’s been another hard day’s evidence for Manuela’s parents but they will get a day’s break tomorrow.  The trial will resume on Friday when it is expected to finish.  It will have been a long couple of weeks.

The Crowd

With any murder trial there are the gawkers.  Members of the public who arrive on a Monday when the trials are doled out and work out which is the juiciest case to sit into.  They’re not allowed into rape trials (under the In Camera rule only bona fide members of the press and interested parties are allowed into these) but if there is a murder you can bet they’ll come out from under their stones as soon as the jury take their seats.

Ray Bradbury wrote a short story called The Crowd.  It’s about the people who come and stare at traffic accidents.  He casts them, not as simple ghouls, but as force of nature with power of life and death.  These are the people who raise of lower the thumb to decide if the victim lives or dies.  It’s one of his most disturbing stories.

When you see the same faces sitting in the back of the court, trial after trial after trial it’s hard not to think of the Bradbury crowd.  They come in every morning, pick a prime spot, usually in the middle of the extended family of victim or accused and settle in.  The more gruesome the evidence the closer they lean.  Well I suppose it beats daytime TV.

Now before you say it, I know I do the same thing.  I sit through a trial day after day and have been known to grade trials according to their degree of interest.  But there’s a difference.  A big one.  I’m paid to sit there and as a freelance, if the trial’s not interesting enough I’m not going to earn much money.  I don’t do it for entertainment.

The hard core of the rubber neckers will get quite militant about their right to attend open trials if, in a packed courtroom they are urged to move to the upstairs gallery available for the public.  They will treat the journalists with contempt, as if we are a corrupt filter attempting to stop them from accessing their god given constitutional right.  They intend to exercise this constitutional right…in the Joe O’Reilly trial they brought sandwiches.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favour of the public having access to the courts.  I think everyone should sit through a trial, to understand what goes on and see how everything works.  Not to mention that justice should absolutely happen in public (the reason for our attendance in rape trials – as the eyes, so to speak.)

The thing I have a problem with are the people who come again and again and again and watch with such relish.  In a case like the current one, in which a 17-year-old girl was found strangled and semi naked on wasteground, these watchers seem particularly inappropriate.

This isn’t entertainment.  It shouldn’t be viewed as such.  But the same faces in the Crowd will always come back for more.  This won’t be the last trial they come to and nothing I say will put them off.  They are a fact of public justice.  But like Bradbury’s preternatural chorus the Dublin contingent creep me out.

Probabilities and Positives

Arlette Riedo took the stand today.  Her purpose was to confirm that the mobile phone and digital camera Gerald Barry admits stealing had belonged to her daughter.  Speaking through an interpreter she answered quietly but directly to every question.  “Correct.”

She explained that the black Sony Ericsson W810i had been bought by the 17-year-old only a week before she travelled to Ireland.  The same phone Barry sold to his sister’s boyfriend a couple of weeks after Manuela’s death and then travelled around County Galway as it was passed from one hand to another.

The silver Olympus digital camera had been a present from Manuela’s uncle.  When it was found under the mattress of the bed Barry slept in, it still held the batteries her father had marked “2007” for the sake of efficiency.

Arlette Riedo was on the stand for only a few minutes but the proximity to the man accused of murdering her daughter in such a violent manner took it’s toll.  When she took her seat she bent down, hiding her face from the watchful press who fill the benches beside the accused.

In any trial of this kind there is forensic evidence.  Frequently that evidence will include a DNA analysis of certain items, to find a concrete link with either the accused or the deceased.  Today we heard such evidence.  Stripped down to statistical formula it is mercifully sterile, coming, as it does after a grim litany of swabs and samples that dissect a loved one even more completely than the post mortem evidence.

When a deceased person undergoes a post mortem the purpose is to gather as much evidence as possible.  To find a cause of death, the state of the life that person once lived.  Forensic samples are different.  Sterile tubes holding over sized cotton buds and labelled with blunt anatomical terms.  This can seem more brutal than any internal investigation the pathologist might do.  There is an absolute distance from the person that once lived and breathed, a whiff of formaldehyde and disinfectant.

But while the post mortem can rarely speak in absolutes these swabs and glass jars can at least come close.  Their results might still come in statistical long shots that duck an absolute definite but the shots are so long definite they may as well be.

The big test in this trial is the condom found hanging from a branch on a bush near Manuela’s body.  Containing a substantial amount of a yellow liquid, which may or may not have been urine, it also contained semen.

Swabs were taken and tests were done.  The results were definite as far as a 1 in 100,000,000 long shot.  The semen belonged to Gerald Barry.  Separate tests were done on the outside of the condom.

This yielded a mixed profile, one male, the other female.  Once again it was a mere statistical equivocation.  All the elements of the DNA that the scientists tick off for a match were there for both Barry and Manuela.  There were no elements found that didn’t fit.  Once again a figure almost bigger than comprehending 1 in 100,000,000.

That’s as definite as the scientists tend to go.  It’s not exactly a litmus test – either red or blue depending on acid or alkali.  But then the possibilities in this are so much greater.

The prosecution case is drawing to a close.  But for now a break to allow for the festivities of Patricks Weekend.

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