Murderer fails in bid to introduce new ground of appeal over 'house of horrors' conviction

Ciprian Grozavu (48), a Romanian national with a last address at Bridge House, Sean Hales Place, Bandon, was found guilty of the murder of 42-year-old John Forrester at the same "house of horrors" on November 12, 2011.
Murderer fails in bid to introduce new ground of appeal over 'house of horrors' conviction

Ciprian Grozavu (48), a Romanian national with a last address at Bridge House, Sean Hales Place, Bandon, was found guilty of the murder of 42-year-old John Forrester at the same "house of horrors" on November 12, 2011. Picture Denis Minihane.

A convicted murderer will not be permitted to introduce a new ground of appeal in a bid to overturn his conviction for killing a father of four, whose body was tied up with cable and dumped in the River Bandon, bringing an end to case which began over 10 years ago.

Ciprian Grozavu (48), a Romanian national with a last address at Bridge House, Sean Hales Place, Bandon, was found guilty of the murder of 42-year-old John Forrester at the same "house of horrors" on November 12, 2011.

A jury unanimously found Grozavu guilty of the murder after a 10-day trial at the Central Criminal Court and Mr Justice Paul Carney imposed the mandatory life sentence on him in March 2014.

Today at the Court of Appeal, Lorcan Staines SC submitted a motion that the jury in Grozavu's 2014 trial should have been given a warning about circumstantial evidence in the case before they began deliberating.

Mr Staines said that while the jury were deliberating, they came back to the judge to ask three questions all of which focussed on circumstantial evidence in the case. He submitted that the trial judge did not give enough weight to the circumstantial evidence present in the case when addressing the jury.

Counsel said that when interviewed by gardaí Grozavu repeatedly replied "no comment" and had been warned by gardaí that inferences could be made by his choosing to be silent.

President of the three-judge court, Mr Justice George Birmingham told Mr Staines that both the defence and the prosecution in the case had not treated it as a circumstantial one.

Mr Justice Birmingham said Grozavu admitted being at the scene of the murder and that he was involved with getting the body of Mr Forrester into the water.

The judge said that the case was one of direct evidence and that the trial judge, Mr Justice Carney, the defence and prosecution had proceeded on that basis.

Mr Staines said that without the admissions it was an "extremely thin" case against his client.

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy said the height of the defence's case was to convince the jury of whether or not Grozavu was "active participant or a callous bystander".

Judgement

In delivering judgement on the motion today, Mr Justice Birmingham said the appellant was trying to advance a new ground and was not now pursuing a separate, older line of appeal. This meant, he said, that if the motion before the court failed then the appeal would not be pursued.

He said the appellant was arguing that what he submitted was an inadequate charge by the trial judge to the jury and could have rendered the verdict unsatisfactory and unsafe.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the State had submitted that the appellant's legal team had the transcript of the trial for over eight years and only recently lodged the new motion regarding the circumstantial evidence warning.

In dismissing the appeal, Mr Justice Birmingham said the motion was "singularly lacking in merit".

He said it was inconceivable that both the prosecution and the judge in the case would overlook such a matter as failing to give a circumstantial evidence warning to the jury. Mr Justice Birmingham said the case was one of direct evidence and that the prosecution were relying on the admission evidence given by two witnesses, which had been admitted into evidence.

Mr Justice Birmingham said that the majority of the circumstantial evidence in the case did not shed light on Grozavu's role as being either "callous bystander or active participant", which was central to the defence's case.

He said it was not "in any real sense a circumstantial case" and that neither side had made any requisition of the judge to include the warning when charging the jury.

Mr Justice Birmingham said that the court was dismissing the motion which in turn disposed of the appeal.

Case background

Grozavu's co-accused Catherine O'Connor (46) also pleaded guilty to Mr Forrester's murder, while both were further accused of the murder of a second man the very next night, November 13, 2011.

Jonathan Duke (27) was also strangled to death at Bridge House before his body was then thrown into the nearby River Bandon.

Mr Duke, a father-of-one, was visiting Mr Forrester’s murderers there when he became aware of what had happened the previous day. Gardaí believe he was killed because he had knowledge of the first murder.

Mr Forrester’s former girlfriend, mother-of-three O’Connor, from Kinsale, is serving life in prison for both murders. Her then boyfriend Grozavu denied murdering both men and went on trial for their murders separately.

Father-of-one Grozavu was found guilty of both murders and sentenced to life in prison. However, he appealed his murder conviction in the case of Mr Duke and the Court of Appeal quashed it and ordered a retrial.

The trial took place at the Central Criminal Court in Limerick last year. He was acquitted of murder by the jury upon direction of the judge. However, he was found guilty by a unanimous jury of two counts of impeding the apprehension or prosecution of another in dumping the body in the river and was sentenced to eight years imprisonment.

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