Belfast Telegraph

Natasha McShane's life shattered by attack, mum tells US court

Room silenced by moving testimony

The mother of an Armagh woman who was beaten by a mugger wielding a baseball bat has told a US court how her daughter's life had utterly changed since the attack.

Natasha McShane suffered serious head injuries in the attack in Chicago and now needs full-time care.

Her father Liam and mother Sheila, along with two siblings, are in Chicago for the trial of 34-year-old Heriberto Viramontes. He denies trying to kill the exchange student.

On the first day of his trial proper, Mrs McShane took the stand to describe how life had changed for her daughter.

Court 604 in the Cook County Criminal Courts building went silent as a disturbing video of Natasha was shown to the jury. It shows her being helped by her mother as she tries to walk, then shakily attempting to drink tea.

Mrs McShane also revealed the toll it has taken on her own personal life, with the strain at least partly leading to separation from her husband.

Natasha was described as an artistic, lively young woman, who was smart and had been always talking before the attack. Now, there is no conversation, her attempts at drawing end in scribbles and the swimming pool is a place where Natasha goes for therapy.

Natasha's vision and balance have been so badly impaired she "skims off to the right" if allowed to walk on her own. In the video shown in court, Natasha is wearing a helmet.

Mrs McShane said: "We do not have conversations... as a mother I can understand what's she's trying to tell me. She does not speak."

Mrs McShane explained how her daughter was making progress after returning to Ireland in the summer of 2010 but a seizure had left her in a wheelchair and infections weakened her further.

Earlier, a prosecutor told the court that Natasha, like many before her, had been attracted to the shimmering glamour of Chicago – but instead she met its dark underbelly. The prosecution and defence delivered their opening arguments to the jury which will decide Viramontes' fate. His lawyer David Dunne claimed Viramontes was an innocent man and it was someone else who beat Natasha and her friend Stacy Jurich under a darkened viaduct on the night of April 23, 2010.

In an impassioned opening statement, Margaret Ogarek described how Natasha and friend Stacy were "unprepared, unsuspecting innocents", doing nothing but living their lives.

"Natasha McShane was one of those young minds who was attracted to the city of Chicago... she was a student from Ireland... she had come here to learn," Ogarek told the jury.

The women were on a night celebrating their successes, drinking and dining in local bars in the Bucktown neighbourhood before deciding to walk back to Stacy's apartment.

At the same time, Viramontes was out with his co-defendant Marcy Cruz touring Bucktown in a van. Cruz accepted a plea deal in return for a 22-year sentence and is expected to testify against Viramontes.

"This defendant knew exactly what he was going to do at this point," Ogarek said, adding Viramontes wrapped his fingers around the baseball bat and left the van.

As the girls walked under a viaduct, Viramontes crept up on them, came from behind and "smashed that bat on to Stacy Jurich's skull," Ogarek said.

The prosecutor argued it was Viramontes who, after leaving Stacy sprawling with one strike, then turned and "unleased his violent rage" on the much smaller Natasha, who went to ground and never got up again.

He then turned and hit Stacy a second time, it is alleged.

Viramontes ran, as did Stacy, flagging down a car and finally finding help for her beaten friend.

At the scene, Stacy tried to describe the man who attacked her. This will be central to the trial, as defence lawyers claim she twice in the aftermath said the pair were assaulted by a black man. Viramontes is Hispanic.

The two women were rushed to hospital where doctors performed life-saving operations on them.

Viramontes and Cruz went on a spending spree on Stacy's credit card, said Ogarek. Viramontes' fingerprint was on a bag found in the back of the van containing McShane's passport.

Defence lawyer Dunne agreed that what happened that night was a "massive tragedy". But the jury's job, he said, was to "make sure the right conclusion is reached". The trial continues.

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