Man jailed for murdering partner loses appeal against murder conviction

By Ann O'Loughlin

A man jailed for life for the murder of his partner, whom he blamed for being evicted from his Dublin flat, has lost his Supreme Court appeal against his conviction.

Waldemar Solowiow (48), had denied the murder of Mary Ryan (37) but pleaded guilty to her manslaughter at the flat at Sherrard Street Upper, Dublin, between May 18 and 19, 2012.

Ms Ryan, originally from Drogheda, was rushed to hospital unconscious around 11am on May 19 but died almost immediately due to neck compression and blunt force trauma to the head.

Solowiow, a native of Poland, said they had a physical fight on the night of May 18, some hours after his landlord said they would have to leave the flat. There had been complaints by neighbours after drunken and disruptive behaviour by Ms Ryan, he said.

Solowiow said the row happened after both had a lot to drink and he was angry with Ms Ryan because they might both be on the streets with nowhere to live. He said he was provoked and did not mean to kill her.

After being found guilty of her murder by a majority jury verdict in the Central Criminal Court, he was jailed for life in October 2013. He lost an appeal to the Court of Appeal but pursued a further appeal to a five-judge Supreme Court.

The core issue centred on how the trial judge charged the jury, in the context of his provocation defence, about earlier lies told by him to gardaí about how Ms Ryan came to her death.

He initially claimed she was attacked on the street by three men and persisted with that false account in a number of Garda interviews before eventually admitting responsibility for killing her.

His lawyers argued the trial judge should have explicitly warned the jury that lies of this type may be as consistent with a defendant who has been "provoked" in the legal sense as one who has been guilty of murder. It was submitted the trial judge failed to draw that distinction, making his charge fundamentally flawed.

Giving the Supreme Court judgment dismissing the appeal, Mr Justice John MacMenamin said the paramount issue at trial was not the lies told immediately after the killing but the defendant's credibility as a witness when he gave evidence of the events of May 18 and 19.

The pathologist's evidence of the severity of Ms Ryan's injuries was "irreconcilable" with the defendant's account of what he did on the night. While Solowiow claimed Ms Ryan started the fight and attacked him, that was irreconcilable with the severe injuries to her face and body and significant brain damage.

Another issue was his delay seeking help. While the fight apparently occurred during the night or early morning of May 18, he only sought emergency assistance for Ms Ryan, who was obviously seriously injured, about 11am on May 19 after he had spoken to friends. This was not easily reconcilable with a "loss of control".

The provocation defence was "well-nigh unsustainable" but the trial judge allowed it go to the jury, he said.

Given the evidence, the charge on the earlier lies was a secondary issue removed from the main question for the jury, the defendant's credibility, and whether they believed his account of what happened that night. The earlier lies related to whether he was involved in Ms Ryan's death and that was no longer an issue at trial.

The trial judge's charge was "detailed and fair" and included a modified and quite detailed warning concerning the earlier lies, he said.

The charge was not fundamentally flawed by the absence of a specific type of warning, known as the Richens warning, involving a direction as to the possible effect of any lies told by the defendant to police, he ruled.

The Richens case effectively involved a jury being invited to consider the accused's lies as being potentially probative of the prosecution case but that was not the actual situation here, he ruled.

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