1/30/2006

O'Donoghue Case - no easy answers


The tragic case of Robert Holohan has attracted a lot of attention in Ireland in the past week. Having caught some of a debate on the issue on the Late Late Show on Friday, it seems that many people in Ireland feel that the man convicted of Robert's manslaughter, Wayne O'Donoghue was let off much too lightly by the 4 year jail term. This is a view which has been articulated in the blogosphere by United Irelander.

Much of the controversy seems to centre around the fact that in her Victime Impact Statement, the young boy's mother referred to semen samples which were allegedy found on Robert's hand, evidence of which was not put before the jury. Obviously this is a shocking relevation which has made many people feel worried that a miscarriage of justice has taken place.

However people should not jump so quick to judgement. A leading US forensic scientist has said that the method used to examine traces of semen in the killing of Cork schoolboy Robert Holohan is unreliable and capable of producing ‘‘spurious’’ results.

Many difficult decisions have to be made in the legal arena every day. One of those is what evidence to allow into play. Personally, I believe that since this evidence seems to have been unreliable, no competent court could ever have allowed it be admissible, though to the hugely prejudicial effects it would have had on the defendants' case, espicially when the tests have been shown to be unreliable.

People can rightly hold the view that four years' for manslaughter was too lenient a sentence but I don't believe that this semen evidence should colour the case. If we allow unreliable evidence such as this be admissible then we allow the legal system to fall into the realm of speculation. Of course, you can feel nothing but sympathy for the boy's parents and I can only imagine the torment they must be going through but the law sometimes has to make hard calls and on this occasion, I believe they were right to only allow the evidence that they did.

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