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Murder trial hears post-confession statements killer gave to gardai had degree of "self-pity"

CourtsBy Sunday World
Roy Webster
Roy Webster

Roy Webster's statements to gardai after he confessed to beating Anne Shortall to death with a hammer had a degree of "self-pity", a prosecution barrister has told the jury at his murder trial.

Mr Webster (40) of Ashbree, Ashford, Co Wicklow has pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to the manslaughter of Anne Shortall (47) on Good Friday April 3, 2015 at The Murrough, Co Wicklow. His plea was not accepted by the State and he is on trial at the Central Criminal Court.

Making his closing statement for the prosecution, Paul Greene SC told the jury of seven women and four men that Mr Webster waited from April 3, when he admits to killing Ms Shortall, until April 7 when he revealed his part in her death.

Mr Greene said that there was a "degree of self-pity" when Mr Webster talked about all the things he had worked so hard for and told gardai: "It is a mistake that is after ruining so many lives, but she had me up against a wall."

He pointed out that over the previous four days Mr Webster had lied to Ms Shortall's daughters when they asked him if he could help them find their mother. He then lied to gardai repeatedly over the weekend before he confessed on the Tuesday when his wife confronted him in front of gardai.

Mr Greene said a lot had come out about the background of Ms Shortall and that, at times, it may have been hard to tell who was on trial. The jury heard about her difficulties with rent arrears and electric bills totaling thousands of euro. He described her as a "nocturnal creature of habit" and said they have heard from Mr Webster's statements to gardai that she threatened to tell his wife about their affair if he refused to give her money.

He said she had not covered herself in glory but added that it is Roy Webster who is on trial for murder. It is already accepted that Mr Webster killed Anne Shortall and Mr Greene said all that the jury must decide is what was his intention. He added: "We say the evidence ought to satisfy you that he intended to kill or cause serious injury."

Counsel told the jury that an intention to kill can be formed "immediately" and that they should presume that Mr Webster intended the "natural and probable consequences" of his actions when he hit Anne Shortall on the head nine times with a hammer.

He explained that the defence can claim that he lost control to the point where he was no longer master of his own mind, and that in such circumstances a verdict of not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter can be brought.

In assessing this, he said they should consider Mr Webster's actions in the aftermath of beating Ms Shortall to death. Mr Webster went home and was "completely normal", according to the evidence of his wife's friend Carmel Phibbs. With the body in his van, covered in blood and tied up with duct tape less than 100 metres away, he had a drink with his wife, watched television and fell asleep.

The following day he went shopping and that evening moved her body to his workshop where he made a "thorough attempt to secrete her". On the Sunday he had what he referred to as a "pyjama day".

Mr Greene said the accused only began to claim that he had lost control after he was arrested and had been given "a very thorough opportunity to explain himself". It was only then that he started to speak of "out of body experiences" and describing the attack on Ms Shortall as being like watching someone else doing it.

He asked the jury to consider that in the immediate aftermath of the attack on Ms Shortall, he taped her hands and head with duct tape. Mr Greene reminded them of the evidence of State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy, who said that the tape around her head may have caused her to die from asphyxia, if she was not already dead from the nine hammer blows.

He pointed to further evidence that Ms Shortall had fought for her life and that she was grabbed by her neck and that her dead body was "dragged around". Rather than being out of his mind, Mr Webster had the presence of mind to wash the blood from his hands and wipe the bloody hammer. With Ms Shortall in the back of his van, he then drove to a Centra shop and called his wife to find out if she wanted anything.

Mr Greene told the jury they had heard from Mr Webster's friends of what a "wonderful person" he was and how surprised they were when they heard of his involvement in this case. While he accepted that Mr Webster's remorse is real, he said that does not excuse his guilt. Asking the jury to be ruthless and to leave sympathy aside, counsel said that the prosecution has shown beyond reasonable doubt that "what we are dealing with here is murder".

Brendan Grehan SC will make his closing statement to the jury of seven women and four men tomorrow before Justice Patrick McCarthy begins his charge.

Eoin Reynolds