Couple guilty of neglect death


A jury of seven men and five women returned a guilty verdict in a manslaughter case at Wexford Circuit Criminal Court today involving the death by neglect of Co Wexford woman Evelyn Joel.

Her daughter Eleanor Joel (38) and Jonathan Costen (40) of Cluain Dara, Enniscorthy, looked impassive as the guilty verdict was returned shortly before 5pm after an eight day trial before Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin.

They had pleaded not guilty to the charges of the unlawful killing by neglect of Evelyn Joel (59) on January 7th, 2006. After four hours of deliberation, the jury forewoman said the jury had found the defendants guilty on a count of 11-one.

The Enniscorthy couple were the first people to be tried for such an offence in Irish history.

The trial had heard from prosecuting counsel Justin Dillon SC that central to the case was that Evelyn Joel suffered from multiple sclerosis.

The State’s case focussed on the last four to five weeks that she was in the house before being moved to hospital, saying in that time it seemed she was in bed all of the time.

Mr Dillon said ambulance personnel effectively found her lying in her own filth. State Pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy gave evidence that Mrs Joel died by pneumonia at Wexford General Hospital on January 7th, 2006.

She described Mrs Joel as being profoundly ill; which may have been due to sepsis syndrome complicated by infection from bed sores.

“There was evidence of general neglect, but there was no evidence of long term starvation or physical abuse,” she added.

Prosecuting barrister Philip Sheahan told the jury yesterday that Mrs Joel was critically ill when she was brought by ambulance to Wexford General Hospital on January 1st, 2006.

He said both Costen and Joel contributed to the state of affairs that led to the death of Evelyn Joel.

“The prosecution asserts that both accused effectively did nothing in respect of decisions during that time. They neglected her and the neglect was gross.”

He described how Mrs Joel was immobile due to her illness and said both accused led to her bed sores becoming infected through their inaction.

He said this, in turn, led to her sepsis syndrome, which led to her admission into hospital.

“She was in their house and they did nothing; they did not care for her; they ignored her condition. They didn’t lift the phone; they didn’t look for help. They did nothing.”

Wexford Circuit Court heard that Joel was unaware of her mother’s sores and that she “just got fed up” looking after her in the final weeks of her life.

Mr Sheahan recalled Costen’s words to gardaí in an interview in early 2006: “My neglect was that I didn’t help her. My neglect was ignoring the situation.” He said this happened from the first or second week of December 2005.

When asked when he saw her on Christmas Day 2005 did he think she was going to die, he replied “Yes”. When asked by the interviewing Garda if he wanted her to die he replied that he did but not in their house, because he feared an investigation into her death. He also said he felt it would be a relief if she died.

Rosario Boyle SC for Joel said her client was made a scapegoat.

“She was blamed for the failings of others. She is a quiet person, who had a particularly dominant mother,” she stated.

Ms Boyle said it was extraordinary that the gardaí¬ were tasked with investigating the HSE’s handling of Mrs Joel, but the HSE ended up controlling how the gardaí carried out the investigation.

Mr John O’Kelly SC for Costen rejected the prosecution’s claim that his client killed her, saying a bug she caught at Wexford General Hospital infected her bed sores.

He said both accused were overwhelmed by something that was beyond them when caring for Mrs. Joel.

Judge Ó Donnabháin released the couple on bail ordering them to appear at Wexford Circuit Court for their sentencing hearing in mid-February.

Both have been asked to surrender their passports and a psychological assessment was requested for Eleanor Joel.