Laois woman was not pregnant, trial told

The scene at Capoley, Portlaoise where Aoife Phelan's body was discovered in November 2012.
The jury heard that Laois woman Aoife Phelan was not pregnant when she was strangled to death.

The jury heard that Laois woman Aoife Phelan was not pregnant when she was strangled to death.

The trial was hearing from State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy, who carried out the autopsy on the 30-year-old’s body after it was discovered buried on the accused man’s property.

Robert Corbet (25) of Capoley, Sheffield Cross, pleaded not guilty to murdering Ms Phelan at Capoley. However he has admitted her manslaughter between October 25 and November 7, when gardai found her body doubled over in a barrel.

Professor Cassidy testified last Tuesday that she visited the scene behind Mr Corbet’s home, where a metal barrel had been unearthed several feet below ground. She said Ms Phelan’s head and shoulders were covered by a plastic bag, which was secured around her neck by a sturdy cable tie. Another cable tie was secured tightly around her neck underneath the bag.

The pathologist found prominent signs of asphyxia, including blood in her nose and ears and pinpoint haemorrhages in her eyes and mouth. Her hyoid bone and thyroid cartilage were fractured.

Apart from asphyxia, she said there was also evidence of a minor assault, with punches or slaps to her head. She said that this head trauma could have subdued her and that she could have been strangled during this vulnerable time. She was of the opinion that she was assaulted first and then strangled.

She said there were “multiple greenstick fractures” of the ribcage, meaning the ribs were bent but not broken. This could have been caused by pressure applied or by attempts to put her in the barrel.

She said there was no evidence of Ms Phelan struggling in the barrel, so she was either deeply unconscious or dead when put inside. She gave her cause of death as asphyxia due to strangulation, with blunt force trauma a contributory fact.

Professor Cassidy also said Ms Phelan was not pregnant at the time of her death. She agreed with Conor Devally SC, defending, that she had never been pregnant.

The trial heard that Ms Phelan had told the accused that she was pregnant with his baby. He told gardai that he killed her because her pregnancy was going to scupper his relationship with his ex-girlfriend.

The jury also heard details of Mr Corbet’s final interviews with detectives. He had first denied any involvement in her disappearance, but made admissions after phone records were put to him. He said that he had killed her while in his jeep and had dumped her body in a river. When gardai uncovered her body buried behind his home, he apologised and said he had wanted to “protect the home place”. He said he had strangled her in his shed and secured a plastic bag around her head with two cable ties.

Detective Garda Brian Hanley testified that the accused was asked in his final interview if everything he had told them was not 100 per cent.

“It’s not,” he said.

“The first cable tie I put on her, I put around her neck before I put the plastic bag,” he said, explaining that he did this after he had strangled her with his arm.

“I just wanted to make sure there was no way she was going to come back,” he said, adding that he had pulled this cable tie tight.

He was asked why he had used the bag.

“I just wanted to be sure,” he replied.

“Of what?” he was asked.

“That she was dead,” he responded.