Man who hit sleeping wife with lump hammer loses conviction appeal

Man who hit sleeping wife with lump hammer loses conviction appeal

Eoin Reynolds

A Polish man who attempted to murder his wife by hitting her head with a lump hammer while she slept has lost an appeal against his conviction.

Lawyers for Andrzej Benko (48) of Ladyswell Road, Mulhuddart, had argued to the three-judge Court of Appeal that his conviction was unsafe. Benko was sentenced to 15 years in prison following a trial at the Central Criminal Court in April 2014 for the attempted murder of his wife, Joanna, at their home on July 5th, 2010.

Following the assault Ms Benko suffered life changing injuries and now relies on full-time care.

Mr Benko's barrister Sean Guerin SC had argued that the trial judge should not have told the jury that an accused person can be presumed to intend the natural and probable consequences of their actions.

Counsel said that presumption only applies in murder cases as it arises out of section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1964 which defines murder in Irish law and goes on to state: "The accused person shall be presumed to have intended the natural and probable consequences of his conduct; but this presumption may be rebutted."

Delivering judgment today Ms Justice Una Ni Raifeartaigh dismissed the argument, citing numerous cases where judges had asserted the "presumption" in cases other than murder cases. She said the court is satisfied that the principle applies "across a wide range of offences involving intent".

The judge quoted a previous ruling of the Court of Criminal Appeal which stated: “Unless an accused has actually expressed an intent, his intent can only be ascertained from a consideration of his actions and the surrounding circumstances, and a general principle with regard to establishing intention has regularly been stated as being that every man is taken to intend the natural and probable consequences of his own acts”.

Presumption

Justice Ni Raifeartaigh also dismissed an argument that the trial judge's direction to the jury about the presumption was inadequate. Mr Guerin had argued that the judge should have told the jury that the question for them to consider was: "Was death the natural and probable consequence of the accused's actions?"

Justice Ni Raifeartaigh found that the trial judge's direction was "entirely correct in as far as it went" and had correctly stated that the burden of proving that the presumption had not been rebutted lay with the prosecution. She also found, however, that the judge's explanation was "succinct" and "it might have been preferable to give a greater explanation."

The court referred, however, to a decision by the Supreme Court which stated that a judge's charge need not be "perfect". "What is required is a clear, accurate and understandable explanation of the legal principles at play so as to enable the jury to perform its function.”

Garda interviews

The judge pointed to various parts of the accused's interviews with gardai where he admitted that he intended to kill his wife. In one extract he said he had the lump hammer because he "wanted to make my justice".

When pressed on what that meant he said he wanted "justice to finish my hell" and when asked what would finish his hell he said: "If I would kill my wife." He later said: "The lump hammer was for that purpose, to kill my wife."

This was, Justice Ni Raifeartaigh said, "A clear admission of an intention to kill."

She dismissed the appeal.

Opposing the appeal last year Dominic McGinn SC for the DPP said Benko’s lawyers were attempting to over-complicate what was “a logical and straightforward concept” that the natural and probable consequence of striking a sleeping woman on the head three times with a hammer was death.

Mr McGinn said it was a matter of common sense to reach such a conclusion. “He deliberately took a heavy weapon and struck a sleeping, defenceless woman three times on the head,” Mr McGinn said.

The original trial heard the couple had been having marital problems with Benko accusing his wife of taking and dealing drugs and spending all his money.

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