Fatal accident trial is called off for a second time

Mike Dwane

Reporter:

Mike Dwane

THE jury has been discharged - for the second time in four months - in the case of a County Limerick man charged with dangerous driving causing the death of a couple outside Askeaton three years ago.

THE jury has been discharged - for the second time in four months - in the case of a County Limerick man charged with dangerous driving causing the death of a couple outside Askeaton three years ago.

The second attempt to try 29-year-old Michael Harty came to an abrupt halt on Tuesday after the jury at Limerick Circuit Court was told a “pivotal” Garda witness wasn’t capable of giving evidence owing to severe back pain.

Mr Harty, of St Mary’s Terrace, Askeaton, had entered a not guilty plea to dangerous driving causing the death of Maurice Hartnett, 61, of Gurteen West, Ballingarry, and his 59-year-old wife Margaret at Ardtomin, Askeaton on July 29, 2009.

The trial was originally set for June of this year but had to be halted after a juror revealed he knew one of the parties involved in the case.

This Tuesday, over 100 members of the jury panel were told that two of the Hartnett’s children had travelled from Australia and Washington DC to attend the trial.

Up to 40 potential jurors asked to be excused because they knew somebody associated with the case.

Nine men and three women were eventually sworn in after what Judge Carroll Moran described as a “marathon” empanelling session.

But before opening speeches could be heard, a problem arose which Judge Moran said meant the trial could not conclude this week, the last week of the current Circuit Court sessions.

“One of the Garda witnesses, who is described as a pivotal witness in outlining forensic evidence, has severe back pain and is in a high degree of discomfort such that he is not capable of giving evidence,” the judge told the jury.

Mr Harty’s defence team had planned to call an independent expert witness to deal with the same points that would be raised by the Garda witness, they were told.

This defence witness had made arrangements whereby he wouldn’t be available to the court until late in the week, meaning the case was likely to continue into next week.

“This being the last week of the sessions, we can’t continue the case,” Judge Moran said, apologising to the jury for the inconvenience.

“The garda in question is not to be criticised but in fact we should sympathise with him,” he added.

Judge Moran said he wanted to see the case treated as a priority during the next sessions and not listed to begin too late into the term to ensure the trial can go ahead at the third attempt.