A Westmeath man has been found not guilty of raping a woman after they met at a New Years Eve ball at a GAA clubhouse, in what was the first jury trial to conclude at the Central Criminal Court since the Covid-19 lockdown.
The 33-year-old man had pleaded not guilty to rape at his home in Westmeath on January 1, 2017.
The complainant was visiting a friend and had planned to spend the night in that woman's home after going to a ball in the local GAA clubhouse. She met the accused, who was of a similar age, and they were kissing in the clubhouse.
She told the jury that towards the end of the night she couldn't find her friend and her mobile phone had gone dead. She said she decided she had no other option but to accept an invitation to the man's house.
She said that she told him there would be no sexual activity and he agreed but that minutes after entering his home he attacked and raped her in his sitting room. She said she was kicking out at him and telling him to stop and afterwards she was crying hysterically.
The accused told the jury that he and the woman never discussed what would happen in the house in advance of going back and that all sexual activity that night was consensual. His lawyers submitted that his mother was sleeping upstairs and heard no noises from the sitting room.
After a 10-day trial the jury of five women and seven men spent 3 hours and 38 minutes in deliberations. On Tuesday, the jury came back with a unanimous verdict of not guilty.
Wearing a navy suit and tie, the man collapsed into his arms and took a deep breath when the verdict was read out.
Mr Justice Paul McDermott said he was particularly grateful to the jury for their service during the Covid-19 pandemic when the country was trying to “come back from lockdown”. This was the first trial to conclude since “lockdown”, the judge added.
Mr Justice McDermott said the courts were applying public health advice during the trial process, which helped the courts prepare for reconvened trials due to take place in September.
“So I thank you for that, particularly because it was more difficult in the circumstances,” the judge said to the jury before offering them an exemption from jury duty for five years.
The accused was then discharged and walked free from court.