Murder accused's coat had blood stain too small to test, court hears

Mark Nash
Mark Nash

A forensic scientist told a murder trial jury today that the lowest button on the right cuff of a black pin-striped velvet jacket belonging to the accused had a blood stain on it but it was too small for testing.

Mark Nash (42) who has last addresses at Prussia Street and Clonliffe Road in Dublin, has pleaded not guilty at the Central Criminal Court to the murder of Sylvia Shields (60) and Mary Callanan (61) between March 6 and March 7, 1997.

The two women were living in sheltered accommodation attached to St Brendan's Hospital in Grangegorman.

The court has heard evidence that the black pin-striped velvet jacket was worn by the accused Mark Nash on the night of Thursday March 6 1997 when he was attending a charity quiz at the GPO on O'Connell Street.

The black pin-striped velvet jacket is of relevance as the court previously heard from Mr Brendan Grehan SC, when opening the prosecution's case, how in July 2009, "a spectacular breakthrough" was made in relation to the black velvet jacket with new tests and how DNA belonging to Ms Shields and Ms Callanan, was found on it.

Dr Louise McKenna told counsel for the State, Ms Una Ni Raifeartaigh SC today that she has been employed in Forensic Science Ireland for over 35 years, working as a biologist. 

Dr McKenna told Ms Ni Raifeartaigh her first involvement with the killings at Orchard View in Grangegorman was when she visited the scene on March 7 1997 and observed the bodies of Sylvia Shields and Mary Callanan. 

On March 8, 1997 the court heard Dr McKenna attended a post mortem with Dr Fiona Thornton which was carried out by now retired State Pathologist John Harbison, where swabs of the bodies of Sylvia Shields and Mary Callanan were taken.

Dr McKenna told Ms Ni Raifeartaigh she carried out tests on the swabs belonging to Ms Shields for purposes of establishing if semen was present but no semen was found. 

Dr McKenna told the court that in July 1997 she received items belonging to Dean Lyons, including a pair of runners which had been taken from a derelict building. 

Dean Lyons, now deceased was the first person who made an independent admission to the murder of Sylvia Shields and Mary Callanan between March 6 and March 7, 1997 and he was charged with the murder of Mary Callanan in sheltered accommodation in Grangegorman on July 27 1997.

In April 1998, the charge was withdrawn from Dean Lyons.

Dr McKenna told Ms Ni Raifeartaigh that she also examined the bedclothes from Mary Callanan's bedroom and found blood splatters on the duvet and top sheet and so smears were taken from Mary Callanan's bed. There was no blood on the blanket or pillow cases. 

Ms Ni Raifeartaigh asked Dr McKenna if she observed a pattern on the duvet and top sheet from Mary Callanan's bed?

"The pattern looked like a yarn as in a sock or knitted gloves,  as if the assailant had been wearing something on his hands and it was bloodstained. If the assailant had cut himself on the way into the house so I was looking for these stains in case I could find blood from another party" replied Dr McKenna. 

When asked about Sylvia Shields blood stained clothing by prosecuting counsel, Dr McKenna told Ms Ni Raifeartaigh she received a heavily blood stained slip, bra, knickers and a handkerchief which were all "consistent with her own blood."

Dr McKenna told the court Ms Shields knickers were "extensively damaged" and the blood on her pillow case was consistent with her own blood. 

The scene at Grangegorman

Dr McKenna also told the court she had received a light switch from the dining room which had "smears of human blood on it"  and this indicated to Dr McKenna that the blood was transferred from a "blood stained fabric such as a glove".

Dr McKenna also told the court she examined a black pin-striped velvet jacket belonging to the accused Mark Nash, to "see if there was any evidence that it was worn during the break in or during the murders at Orchard View."

The jury of six men and five women heard Dr McKenna spent at least a day examining the jacket visually as well as using a low powered microscope. 

Dr McKenna told the court she also applied a screening test entitled KM, used for searching for blood.

Describing the black velvet jacket, Dr McKenna said there was three buttons on the right cuff of the jacket and on the lowest of the buttons, "closest to the hand was a blood stain", which the KM test indicated was present. 

Dr McKenna told the court  the stain was "too small for testing" and she did not find any blood anywhere else on the jacket. 

Ms Ni Raifeartaigh asked Dr McKenna where precisely was the blood on the button?

“There are four stitch holes on the button and it was very close to one of the stitch holes” replied Dr McKenna. 

"Was there indications if the jacket was washed or dry cleaned?" asked Ms Ni Raifeartaigh.

“I found a a tiny tag pinned to the inside of the lining that looked like a dry cleaners tag” replied Dr McKenna. 

Dr McKenna also told the court she looked for cuts on the jacket but there were none present. 

Dr McKenna also told the prosecution, there was no hair matching that of the accused Mark Nash's, found at the scene. 

Dr McKenna then told Ms Ni Raifeartaigh how on September 10 1998, she removed the lowest button and its thread from the right sleeve of Mark Nash's jacket, closest to the cuff and put it in a plastic bag.

The court also heard from Dr McKenna that of the blood stained clothes received from Dean Lyons, none of the blood matched Mary Callanan's or Sylvia Shields and all stains were consistent with Dean Lyon's blood. 

Ms Ni Raifeartaigh then asked Dr McKenna about selotape lifts she did in relation to a motor car she examined as there was suspicion at the time, that the car may have been used by a person who committed the killings.

The jury previously heard that a man by the name of Martin Stafford was "one of many suspects in the case" and had hijacked a car on March 6 1997. 

Dr McKenna told Ms Ni Raifeartaigh she examined the car to see if there was trace evidence and if fibres had been transferred from the house at Orchard View to the car. 

Dr McKenna told the court she found a small piece of glass but it was too thin to be related to the window at Orchard View.

Dr McKenna also said she did not find any fibres from the selotape lifts on the passenger seat of the car, that matched the fibres from Sylvia Shield's duvet or Mary Callanan's nightdress.

"I didn't find any trace evidence on items examined on the car to indicate the occupant of  the car had been connected to the murders in Orchard View” said Dr McKenna.