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Caragh Walsh murder trial: Jury retires to consider Christopher O'Neill verdict

By Michael Donnelly

The Craigavon Crown Court jury in the case of west Belfast man Christopher O'Neill accused of murdering his baby daughter Caragh Walsh, have retired to consider their verdict in the four week trial.

O'Neill from Whiterock Road, denies murdering the three-month-old toddler who died on February 7, 2014, two days after being rushed to hospital from her Glasvey Park home in Twinbrook.

Trial judge Madam Justice McBride told the jury of eleven, 10 men and a woman, that their first duty, however long it took, was to bring in a unanimous verdict of guilty or not guilty. 

Telling them they were under no pressure in reaching their decision, she however, warned them "not to rush to judgement" and that the case was important not only for the prosecution, but also for the defendant.

Earlier Madam Justice McBride provided a synopsis of the evidence for the jury, explaining to them, while their task was not an easy one, they should not allow it to overwhelm them.

The senior judge further explained that although they must follow all directions given to them on the law, evidential matters, and all issues of fact were for them solely to decide upon. She said that there was evidence from a number of medical experts, but even here it was a matter for them which aspects of that evidence, if any, they either accepted or rejected.

Madam Justice McBride said that in law the jury had three possible verdicts in this particular case, and set out what she termed an agreed "route to verdict" in helping them to understand the questions they must ask themselves before reaching their decison.

The first question they must ask, said the judge, was whether the prosecution had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Christopher O'Neill unlawfully killed Caragh Walsh, and if they answer, "No, then that would be the end of the matter and you find him not guilty".

However, should they answer "yes", the judge said they should go on to question two, had the prosecution proved that he intended to cause Caragh Walsh really serious bodily injury, and if "yes, you must convict".

Again if the answer was "no", they had to proceed to question three, which instructed them, if they were satisfied that the defendant by his actions intended to cause some bodily injury to Caragh, then they must acquit him of murder, but convict him of the lesser offence of manslaughter.

However, if the answer to this question remained, "no", then the jury were told they must acquit O'Neill of everything.

It is the prosecution case that O'Neill, while he never intended to kill his baby daughter, he had lost it, having reached his limits with her crying, and snapped and in a rage assaulted or abused her leaving her with head injuries akin to those suffered in a high-speed crash.

However, the youngster's dad has always rejected those claims, and that far from attacking her in a rage, he had done all he could to save the toddler he dotted on when she awoke with a "sore cry" and ended up "barely breathing".

The jury has now retired for the day.

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