Jury shown footage of murder accused running from Dublin hotel after alleged strangling
A murder trial has heard that a 'violent struggle' took place in a Dublin hotel room, where the accused man is alleged to have strangled and suffocated his ex-girlfriend.
The jury also saw footage of him running away from the hotel, hours before the 31-year-old's body was found on the floor of the room, along with an imitation firearm, cable ties and duct tape.
There were ligature marks around Sonia Blount's neck and a blood-stained top had been stuffed deeply in her mouth with such force that it had damaged her teeth.
The evidence was given to the Central Criminal Court today in the trial of 35-year-old Eric Locke, who's charged with murdering the mother-of-one at a room in the Plaza Hotel in Tallaght on February 16, 2014.
The prosecutor had told the jury that the Dublin man had assumed a false identity in order to meet her in the room
Mr Locke, with an address at St John's Park East in Clondalkin, has pleaded not guilty. However his barrister, Patrick Gageby SC, has said that 'the defence admits that the accused caused Ms Blount's death'.
Garda Robert Whitty testified that he was called to the hotel room around 3.30pm that day. There was was a 'Do Not Disturb' sign hanging from the door and the body of Sonia Blount was lying on the floor.
"She had a ligature mark," he recalled, explaining that this was a visible line around her neck. "It was consistent with what I would call a strangulation mark."
He said that something similar to a bloodstained cloth was stuffed into her mouth and that unused cable ties were strewn around the floor of the room.
There was black duct tape and a phone charger near her body.
"There was an imitation firearm under the bed," he said, adding that he did 'not initially' know that it was an imitation.
He observed tissues in the toilet and a towel on the side of the bath, both of which appeared to have been bloodstained.
"We believed that the death was suspicious," he said, confirming that more officers were then called.
His colleague, Gda Thomas Murray, made similar observations.
"It appeared that there was a garment of some description shoved quite deeply inside the lady's mouth," he added.
Detective Garda Janette O'Neill described the gag found in Ms Blount's mouth.
"It appeared to be a white-and-black striped top," she said.
She identified the full-sized air pistol found under the bed.
"It would look very like an actual pistol," she testified.
She said that, due to the numerous items strewn around the floor, she was of the view that a struggle had taken place.
She was asked if she could characterise that
"A violent struggle," she replied.
Mr Justice Michael Moriarty asked if it would be possible to get something as realistic looking as the imitation firearm in a children's toy shop.
"Unfortunately yes, Judge," she replied.
"That will be the evidence, Judge," added Mr Gageby.
The State Pathologist, Professor Marie Cassidy, testified that death was caused by asphyxia or lack of oxygen due to compression of the neck, exacerbated by suffocation due to the gag in her mouth.
"The fact that, in this case, there was evidence of bruising in or around the mouth is probably an indication she was still alive when the gag was put in the mouth," she explained.
She said the gag had been inserted with sufficient force to dislodge some of Ms Blount's front teeth and break a wire retainer at the back of her mouth.
She described the marks on the victim's neck as being consistent with ligature strangulation, one consistent with a cable, including a phone charger cable found beside Ms Blount's body.
However, she said other marks could have been caused by something broader, such as a forearm as in an arm lock; the unusual mark under her chin could have resulted from an arm around neck.
She added that there was excessive damage to Ms Blount's laryngeal structures, which suggested more force than that expected from a narrow ligature.
She also found scratches on the deceased's neck, consistent with having come from fingernails.
This might suggest there had been a combination of ligature and manual strangulation, Prof Cassidy said.
She explained that the force would have to be maintained for 'a sufficient time' for the petechial hemorrhages she saw on the face to appear.
"There were a few marks on the arms suggesting she could have been grabbed forcibly," the State Pathologist continued. "Marks on her head and face could have suggested minor blows to the head."
She also noted that an earring had scratched the skin behind Ms Blount's ear and that the back of an earring was found in her hair.
"Probably, there would have been a struggle," she said.
She could tell that Ms Blount had engaged in sexual activity in the previous 24 hours but couldn't say if it was consensual.
Remy Farrell SC, prosecuting, told her that there might be evidence that Mr Locke had dressed Ms Blount, possibly after she was killed. He asked how easy or difficult that would be.
"It's extremely difficult," she replied.
The jury was also shown a montage of CCTV footage gathered from the hotel at the time.
Gda Barry O'Mahony pointed out Ms Blount's Opel Astra arriving at the the hotel at around nine o'clock on the night before she was found. She was seen checking in and arriving at the room she had booked about 20 minutes later.
The next clip was captured at reception shortly before midnight.
"You can see Mr Locke arriving in a white jacket and black trousers," he said, noting that the accused had been handed something at the reception desk before heading for the lift.
He confirmed that Mr Locke had put a hat on by the time he was seen making his way to the room Ms Blount had entered earlier.
The footage then cut to 5.38am, when Mr Locke was seen leaving the room without a jacket but wearing the same hat and trousers seen earlier.
"He seems to be covering his face or wiping his face with a tissue," noted the garda.
He confirmed that within a few seconds of exiting the hotel, the accused appeared to stoop down and deposit something in the area where he had crouched.
He confirmed that this corresponded with an area marked 'Item of Interest', on the location map given to the jury.
Mr Locke was then seen running off towards Belgard Square South.
The trial continues on Wednesday afternoon before a jury of eight men and four women.