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Wicklow man who killed his ex-fiancée's baby loses appeal

Philip Doyle
Philip Doyle

A Wicklow man jailed for killing his ex-fiancée's three-and-a-half-month-old baby has lost an appeal against his conviction for manslaughter.

Philip Doyle (38), of Tinakilly, Aughrim, Co Wicklow, had initially pleaded not guilty to the murder of baby Ross Murphy at Creagh Demesne, Gory, Co Wexford, on April 5 2005.

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy had directed the jury to acquit Doyle of murder and to consider a verdict of manslaughter which was returned unanimously by the jury in the Central Criminal Court following a four-week trial.

He was subsequently sentenced to 11 years imprisonment by Mr Justice McCarthy on May 15 2012.

President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice Seán Ryan said today that Doyle's conviction was “safe”, his trial “satisfactory” and although his grounds of appeal relating to his trial were numerous they did not invalidate the result.

Giving background, Mr Justice Ryan said baby Ross was born on December 10 2004 to Leona Murphy, from Gorey Co Wexford. Ms Murphy had met Doyle in September 2004 and began a relationship with him. He was not the father of her baby.

Leona Murphy

They moved in together and in January 2005, Doyle sought to have his name added to the baby's birth certificate but Ms Murphy would not consent to that.

Ms Murphy gave evidence that Doyle and Ross seemed to get on well together but she expressed concern that Doyle would 'jerk' the baby if he was sleeping while he fed and she had asked him to refrain.

On Sunday April 3 2005, Ms Murphy had left baby Ross at home with Doyle while she went to get a DVD. Soon after, she called Doyle twice unsuccesfully and on the third attempt “discovered alarming news”.

Doyle told her Ross was in his arms and he was lifeless.

On admission to hospital, the medical personnel were concerned about the cause of the “very severe and extensive injuries” that Ross had apparently suffered. One doctor in Wexford thought it might be a case of Shaken Baby Syndrome.

It was accepted that Doyle was “in sole charge of a healthy baby when the baby sustained severe injuries all over his body, externally and internally, including his head and brain and also internal bleeding in his eyes. Those injuries resulted in death.”

The prosecution's case was that the injuries were not accidental and could not have been accounted for by natural causes while the defence claimed the injuries were caused when Doyle fell over with the baby in his arms.

It was an unfortunate accident, the defence had claimed, and the baby sustained further injuries in Doyle's “somewhat clumsy and amateurish” attempt to resuscitate him, according to the judgment dismissing Doyle's appeal delivered today.

During the trial expert medical evidence was given by The State Pathologist, Professor Marie Cassidy, consultant paediatricians and ophthalmologists and a “major plank” of Doyle's appeal was the suggestion that expert medical evidence carried with it particular danger and complexity.

There was no dispute between the experts on questions related to medicine, as such, Mr Justice Ryan said. The question in this case was whether the jury were satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the baby's injuries were inflicted by Doyle other than by way of an accidental fall.

Mr Justice Ryan said the trial judge had given a thorough description of the evidence from various witnesses to the jury but he kept comment on the evidence to a minimum and there was no basis for criticising his approach.

The judge was not required to isolate every piece of evidence on which there was some difference of emphasis, approach or conclusion, Mr Justice Ryan said.

Given the range of expertise, he said it was “entirely to be expected that there would be variations and even differences”

Once the trial judge was satisfied that the medical experts were qualified to give evidence on their opinions, it became a matter for the jury to determine what weight, if any, they should attach to the testimony of any particular witness, he said.

In doing so, the jury were “required to do no more than bring to bear their ordinary critical skills and faculties in the performance of their task”.

Implicit among Doyle's grounds of appeal was a submission that where a doctor says something that is qualified in some way which falls short of certainty, then the evidence has to be disregarded, the judgment stated. “That is not correct”.

It was entirely a matter for the jury to decide what weight, if any, to attach to evidence given by experts ostensibly in disagreement with each other and to determine whose evidence to accept or reject, the judge said.

Mr Justice Ryan, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice John Edwards, said the court was satisfied that the trial judge dealt with the evidence in an “entirely satisfactory” manner.