Man driven into harbour had ‘mortal fear’ of water, court told

Woman found guilty of Arklow murder appealing conviction on a number of grounds

 Marta Herda: A jury at the Central Criminal Court found her guilty of murder and she was given the mandatory life sentence by Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy on July 28th, 2016. Photograph: Collins Courts

Marta Herda: A jury at the Central Criminal Court found her guilty of murder and she was given the mandatory life sentence by Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy on July 28th, 2016. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

A 30-year-old woman who drove a car containing her work colleague into a harbour where he drowned must wait to hear the outcome of an appeal against her conviction for murder.

Marta Herda, of Pairc Na Saile, Arklow, Co Wicklow, knew Csaba Orsos could not swim when she drove her Volkswagen Passat through the crash barriers at South Quay, Arklow, shortly before 6am on March 26th, 2013. Herda had pleaded not guilty to the murder of the 31-year-old Hungarian man who her trial heard was in love with her.

A jury at the Central Criminal Court found her guilty and she was given the mandatory life sentence by Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy on July 28th, 2016.

The Central Criminal Court heard the Polish waitress escaped through the driver’s window at the harbour but her colleague’s body was found on a nearby beach later that day.

A postmortem examination found Mr Orsos died from drowning and not from injuries related to the crash. The trial heard the handbrake had been applied before the car entered the water and that the only open window was the driver’s.

Herda has moved to appeal her conviction on a number of grounds, including the issue of recklessness; whether or not the driving into the Avoca river was accidental or deliberate; if it was deliberate, whether “assault manslaughter” was still open to the jury; “alleged confessions” and the judge’s charge to the jury with regard to circumstantial evidence.

After two days of hearing in the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice George Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Ms Justice Máire Whelan, said the court would reserve its judgment.

It is former attorney general Ms Justice Whelan’s first criminal appeal hearing since her appointment to the court last month.

First language

Giollaíosa Ó Lideadha SC, for the defense, said it was clear from his client’s perspective this was an accident. At all times, she asserted she did not deliberately drive into the water. He said the fact Herda was a foreign national not using her first language was a matter of great importance.

The prosecution ran a case, at least in the beginning, Mr Ó Lideadha said, that this was a deliberate, premeditated, nasty, nefarious luring of the deceased out for the purpose of an “execution”. They had claimed Herda had planned to drive into the river with her window down knowing Mr Orsos could not swim and knowing she could.

However, at the end of the case, he said the prosecution appeared to acknowledge perhaps the premeditated scenario was “far-fetched”. Their case turned to another theory, Mr Ó Lideadha said, that Herda might have just “lost the head” and was trying to end her own life.

That was a very different type of case and, part of that, was the proposition that Herda effectively “confessed”.

Mr Ó Lideadha said there was no evidence at all on Herda’s state of mind or deliberate intent apart from these “alleged confessions”.

At no point did she say she drove into the river deliberately, yet the prosecution made the case that she did. There was no comment at all from the trial judge on how this matter should be approached, counsel submitted.

Mr Ó Lideadha added that the trial judge did not correctly charge the jury with regard to whether or not the driving into the river was accidental or deliberate.

‘Crystal clear’

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Brendan Grehan SC, said the case “was crystal clear” and it was set out in the beginning of the action.

“Marta Herda deliberately drove into the sea,” he said. “The car was used as an instrument of murder. Whether she achieved that with a gun or a sledgehammer doesn’t matter.”

Mr Grehan said there was no question of carelessness and no suggestion she lost control or skidded or did not see the barriers . There was no sign of any attempted evasive action apart from a handbrake skid mark which, Mr Ó Lideadha accepts, Mr Grehan said, was probably pulled by Mr Orsos.

He said she knew Mr Orsos had a “mortal fear” of water.

Much was made of suicide, Mr Grehan said, but it was entirely misconstrued to say the prosecution were putting up some sort of other theory.

In fact, he said, she made contact with him, she “lured” him into her car and minutes later he was at the bottom of the estuary in Arklow. “Anything after that was an attempt to explain away the inexplicable.”