Man who murdered pregnant ex-girlfriend must wait for appeal ruling
Stephen Cahoon (42) strangled Jean Teresa Quigley in Derry in 2008
Stephen Cahoon outside the Central Criminal Court. Photographh: Collins Courts
A man who murdered his pregnant ex-girlfriend must wait to hear whether his appeal against conviction has been successful.
However, the unemployed labourer originally from Magherafelt in Co Derry pleaded not guilty to murdering the 30-year-old in her home at Cornshell Fields, Derry.
A jury of seven women and five men unanimously found him guilty of murder at the Central Criminal Court on April 30th, 2012 and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Moving an appeal against conviction in the Court of Appeal, counsel for Cahoon, Michael O’Higgins SC, submitted that the trial judge Mr Justice Barry White had misdirected the jury while explaining the defence of provocation.
Mr Justice White had told the jury, Mr O’Higgins said, that “the State must establish unlawful killing” and then they must “upgrade” manslaughter to murder by establishing an intent to kill or cause serious harm.
The now-retired Central Criminal Court judge then went on to state that the concept of provocation could not involve intention because a person is not a master of their own mind when they lose self control.
He told the jury: “Having regard to provocation or loss of self control, no such intent is there because what provocation pre-supposes is you don’t have a rational mind, you don’t realise what you are doing (and) you are not master of your own mind.”
That definition, Mr O’Higgins submitted, was actually the definition of insanity.
Mr O’Higgins said there was no mystery about it. He said Mr Justice White “believed that you could not form an intention” having been provoked, notwithstanding the substantial body of law which said otherwise.
Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Patrick Marrinan SC, said provocation could give rise to “very complex” legal scenarios.
However, that was not the situation in this case, Mr Marrinan said. It was a “classic provocation case” without any complicating factors and Mr Justice White had correctly directed the jury in accordance with the law.
Mr Marrinan said the trial judges charge to the jury had to be taken in context.
President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice Seán Ryan, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice George Birmingham, said the court would reserve its decision to a date “as soon as possible”.
The Cahoon trials made legal history. He was charged under the Criminal Law Jurisdiction Act of 1976 and was given the option of being tried in the Republic or in Northern Ireland. He opted for trial in the Republic and became the first person to be tried before a jury here for an offence under the anti-terrorist legislation.
The 1976 Act was brought in to allow for trials in the Republic for offences committed outside the jurisdiction in Northern Ireland or Great Britain. It has rarely been used and up until now the only cases have been brought before the three-judge, non-jury Special Criminal Court.
The two-week trial heard that the deceased had recently broken up with Cahoon, and that she was shaking the day she told him to leave her house, about two weeks before the killing.
The jury saw text messages she sent him in the days before her death in which she described him as a nutter and told him she wanted him out of her life.
However Cahoon went unannounced to Ms Quigley’s house about 2am on the day she died. He said he wanted to give her money for dog food.
He got a taxi to her estate, but not all the way to her house. He denied the taxi driver’s assertion that he had a holdall with him on the way there.
Cahoon claimed that Ms Quigley let him inside. Police later found that a front door had been forced in.
Cahoon claimed that she said he could sleep with her and tied him up with handcuffs and some parcel tape before having sex twice.
He claimed that his phone rang during sex and that she told him to get out when she discovered that a female friend was calling him.
He said he told her he did not want to leave as she had already told him he could spend the night, and that he wanted to stay with her and his baby.
He claimed she began screaming that the child was not his and that she was having an abortion.
“I snapped,” he said, introducing the defence of provocation, which can reduce murder to manslaughter. “I just grabbed her by the throat. I wanted her to be quiet.”
He said he didn’t mean to kill her when he pressed down on her neck for about a minute. He could not explain why her head, body, arms and legs were covered in bruises.
He denied gagging her with a sock found covered in her saliva, saying he used it to clean the ‘frothy stuff’ coming out of her mouth before giving her CPR.
He said when the CPR did not work, he went to the toilet and left. He blamed panic for his locking her inside the house and throwing away the key.
Cahoon booked a taxi from a bus shelter under his friend’s name. He was arrested in Donegal Town 10 days later, after using a bank machine there. DNA tests soon put him there on the night.
The trial heard that the alarm was raised when Ms Quigley’s children couldn’t get into the house that Saturday evening after spending a night away.
Her mother discovered her bruised and battered, naked body lying in a pool of blood on her bed, a vision she yesterday said gave her nightmares.
The court heard yesterday that Cahoon had previous convictions for violent crimes against women.
Detective Garda John Breslin said that he indecently assaulted a complete stranger in Ballymena in 1997. He unlawfully and maliciously caused the woman grievous bodily harm. The Crown Prosecution Service appealed the three year sentence and it was increased to four years.
Det Gda Breslin said he was also convicted of threatening to kill a previous partner and 12 counts of assault causing her actual bodily harm in the same year. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison to run concurrently to the previous sentence. However, this was changed to a consecutive sentence on appeal.
He also had other convictions for assault, he said.