Romanian man will be retried for murder due to judge's answer to jury

CourtsBy Sunday World
Jonathan Duke
Jonathan Duke

The Court of Appeal has ordered that a man be retried for one of two murders, after finding that the trial judge in one of his trials, should have simply said “'yes'” in response to a question from the jury.

Romanian national Ciprian Grozavu (42), with an address at Bridge House, Sean Hales Place, Bandon, Co Cork had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Jonathan Duke at Bridge House, Bandon on November 12, 2011.

Grozavu and his girlfriend at the time, Catherine O'Connor (40), of the same address, lived in an apartment next to a bridge over the Bandon river. The deceased Mr Duke was killed in that apartment on November 13, 2011 and his body dumped in the river.

The occupants of another building gave evidence of witnessing Grozavu and O'Connor throwing the deceased's body over a railing into the river.

Yet another occupant of the apartment building, John Forrester, was killed in his apartment the previous evening and his body was also thrown into the river.

Grozavu and O'Connor were charged and convicted of the murder of both men in four separate trials.

He was found guilty of Mr Duke's murder by a jury at the Central Criminal Court and was given the mandatory life sentence by Mr Justice Paul Carney on July 17, 2013.

However, he successfully appealed his conviction in respect of Mr Duke's murder today/yesterday(MONDAY) and the Court of Appeal ordered a retrial after finding that the trial judge, in response to a question from the jury, should have said “simply 'yes'”.

Giving judgement Mr Justice John Edwards said the jury, shortly after commencing deliberations, returned to court and asked two questions of the trial judge.

The first question concerned the legal definition of manslaughter and no issue arose in relation to the advice provided.

The second question was: “If we believe that two people were involved in an unlawful killing, may we decide that one was guilty of murder without prejudicing the verdict in the case of the other?”

The 'other' was a reference to Ms O'Connor who was also facing trial for the same murder.

To this question, the judge responded: “That's a difficult one. You are only concerned with the case against Mr Grozavu. You are only concerned with the case against him.”

Counsel for Grozavu, Thomas Creed SC, submitted that the trial judge failed to “just say 'yes'”.

That was the only way one could answer the question, Mr Creed said. However, the jury had been left with the impression that they could have prejudiced another trial if they returned a verdict of manslaughter in Grozavu's case.

The response was “of concern” to the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice Edwards said.

The court agreed that the appropriate response to the question was, as had been contended, “simply 'yes'”.

It was possible they may have considered the opening remark 'that's a difficult one' as suggesting that there was no clear cut answer to the question posed by them, Mr Justice Edwards said.

It may have had the effect of introducing or confirming a link between the outcome of both trials which did not, and could not, exist.

Mr Justice Edwards said it may have prompted the jury to withhold an intended verdict of manslaughter, or, as may be more likely abandon further deliberation in relation to manslaughter because of their perception that a verdict of manslaughter might prove detrimental to the successful prosecution of Ms O'Connor for murder.

“The response was certainly capable of causing confusion in the minds of the jury and as such renders the outcome of the trial unsafe.”

Mr Justice Edwards, who sat with Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice Alan Mahon, said the court would set aside the murder verdict and direct a retrial.

Grozavu has separately lodged an appeal in respect of his conviction of the murder of Mr Forrester.

By Ruaidhrí Giblin