Laois victim of domestic violence who enured a 'living hell' loses manslaughter appeal over Roscrea killing

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A domestic abuse victim who killed her violent alcoholic boyfriend, who had made her life "a living hell" and whom she had obtained two safety orders against, has failed in a bid to have her manslaughter conviction overturned.

Inga Ozolina (48) told investigators that during a violent row her boyfriend pulled her hair, pushed her towards the floor and began hitting and biting her. Photographs of her injuries, including two bite marks, were shown to the jury during her Central Criminal Court trial.

Ozolina said that she had grabbed a big kitchen knife to defend herself, that she and the deceased had continued to struggle but that he then flinched. In her garda interviews,  Ozolina said the stabbing was an accident and her defence at trial was one of full self-defence.

At her sentence hearing, Ozolina’s defence team submitted she was possibly under "deadly attack" at the time and that she had killed her partner in self-defence. Caroline Biggs SC said there was a history of domestic violence and "very strong supportive evidence that this event started with his attacking her".

“She had used her hands and fists and it didn’t stop, so what was there for her?” Ms Biggs had asked.

Ozolina, originally from Latvia but with a last address at Old Court Church, Mountrath, Co Laois, was found not guilty of murder but guilty of the manslaughter of Lithuanian native Audrius Pukas (40) by a jury on May 29, 2019.

She had pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr Pukas at The Malthouse, Roscrea on November 20, 2016. Two months after her conviction she was jailed for four years by Mr Justice Alexander Owens.

During the trial, Garda Diarmuid O'Connor gave evidence that in the early hours of the morning of the killing, Ozolina arrived at Roscrea Garda Station wearing a bathrobe and slippers and in a “panicky and frantic” state.

Garda O’Connor said Ozolina told him: “I’ve killed my boyfriend, come quick, come quick. I stabbed him. I pushed the knife into him, come quick.”

It was put to her in garda interviews that this was the truth, and not her later account of the knife accidentally cutting Mr Pukas without her knowledge during the struggle.

Counsel for Ozolina, Ms Caroline Biggs SC, this morning, Friday, May 1 told a remote hearing of the Court of Appeal that the trial judge erred by ruling Garda O’Connor’s evidence admissible.

She submitted that the ruling was not safe in circumstances where Ozolina’s first language was not English, the station sergeant took the view that she was in shock, that she was deemed unfit to be interviewed at the time and where garda witnesses had given evidence that she was “distraught”.

Ms Biggs said that in making the application to dismiss the evidence, the defence had pointed out it was clear that Garda O’Connor had carried out a number of significant tasks, such as travelling to the house with Ozolina and preserving the scene, before he put her words in writing.

She said it was argued that the account was not committed to writing until six minutes after the encounter at the very least and that ultimately it was not safe or reliable.

Counsel said Ms Ozolina was not speaking her first language and there was evidence that she could not speak with the same level of complexity and speed as an Irish national, with one witness describing her as “hard to understand”.

Ms Biggs said there was evidence that a subsequent conversation with Ms Ozolina inside the station was recorded by different gardai in different ways, which raised concerns about the reliability of all of the accounts.

Counsel said that in her client’s garda interviews and in her evidence at trial, she rejected that she had used the words ascribed to her and said she was not familiar with the word “stab”.

Ms Biggs, who appeared with Mr Keith Spencer BL, said it was not her case that Gda O’Connor deliberately recorded what was said inaccurately and it was accepted that he genuinely believed Ms Ozolina had spoken those words. Her submission was that there was a question as to whether the note could be considered reliable in all the circumstances.

Counsel for the DPP, Mr Paul Murray SC appearing with Mr Frank Quirke BL, said the matter was a reliability issue and not an admissibility issue.

Mr Murray said the trial judge made a finding of fact that what was noted by Gda O’Connor was faithfully and accurately recorded and that it was ultimately a matter for the jury to consider.

Counsel said Ozolina’s own position on what she had said was not black and white and that she had equivocated in his cross-examination of her at trial. When he asked her: “Are you saying you didn’t say that,” he said Ozolina replied: “I cannot say yes and I cannot say no.”

He also noted that Ozolina was not under suspicion or arrest when she first spoke to Gda O’Connor.

Returning judgement Friday evening, May 1 the President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham said the trial judge’s approach to the issue was a careful and appropriate one, illustrated by the fact that he had deemed inadmissible six of the seven pieces of evidence the defence had sought excluded.

He said the judge had heard from Garda O’Connor, from other gardai and from Ozolina herself and had viewed sections of her interviews at the station.

The President said the trial judge found he was fully satisfied that Gda O’Connor had noted down accurately the exact words spoken to him by Ozolina, and that these were obviously very significant words.

Mr Justice Birmingham said it would have been “almost inconceivable” for the trial judge to come to any other conclusion as to the admissibility of the remarks as recorded by Gda O’Connor.

He said the appeal court was not in a position to interfere with the trial judge’s finding of fact nor with his ultimate conclusion and in those circumstances would dismiss the appeal.

At the Central Criminal Court trial a pathologist gave evidence that Mr Pukas, a father of two, died at the scene from a stab wound to his chest. He had also sustained two other knife wounds in the incident.

The trial heard that the couple had a volatile relationship, which was violent at times. The court heard evidence that Mr Pukas was an alcoholic whose previous marriage had failed before he formed a relationship with the defendant.

Witnesses gave evidence of seeing Ozolina with various injuries in the past, and she had obtained two safety orders against MrPukas. However, these had lapsed at the time of his death. Ozolina told gardai in her interviews that domestic violence had been an ongoing problem in their relationship, and that she had been in a women’s shelter.

“My life is just a living hell,” she said. “The safety order didn’t stop him assaulting me over and over again.” She had Mr Pukas’ number saved under "Sadist" in her phone.

On passing sentence, Mr Justice Owens said the jury had accepted that the "killing was in self-defence but the self-defence was found to be excessive".