Urantsetseg Tserendorj: what the jury didn't hear

Central Criminal CourtThe Dock

by IINA Reporters

The judge in the retrial of the teenage boy who has been convicted of murdering Urantsetseg Tserendorj ruled that a key piece of witness evidence that was excluded from the original trial should go before the jury.

Less than half an hour after stabbing Ms Tserendorj on Dublin’s pandemic-quietened streets, the teenager attempted to rob another woman, Tayo Odelade, before taking out a knife and telling her: “That could have ended a lot worse for you.”

In ruling on the admissibility of the evidence, Mr Justice Tony Hunt said it was his view that this showed a deliberate decision by the teenager to expose a knife when he had been, as he perceived it, “cheeked” by his potential victim.

However, at the boy’s original trial last April, the trial judge Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring found that the prejudicial effect of the evidence outweighed its value and it should therefore not be introduced before the jury.

Ms Odelade, an accountant, gave evidence that she had been working from home on January 20 and decided to go for a walk to clear her head after a long day. As she was making her way home, she took out her phone to listen to some music but someone came up behind her and tried to grab it from her. The phone was relatively new, Ms Odelade said, and so she gripped it tightly and didn’t let go.

Following a struggle, the young woman ended up on the road and swore at the accused, shouting “What the f**k are you doing?”

The teenage assailant replied “I was only messing”, to which Ms Odelade replied: “No you were not” before turning away to walk home.

At this point the boy asked “What did you say?” and Ms Odelade told the trial she got the impression her attacker was offended by what she had said. He was behind her and she was looking back at him because she didn’t feel safe and felt he could harm her, the jury of six men and six women heard.

Ms Odelade told how the boy then opened his jacket, took out a knife and made the comment that it “could have ended a lot worse for you”.

The knife appeared to be about four or five inches long, she said.

The witness said she then apologised to the teenager, who nodded and said ‘right’ in reply. She said she got the impression he was happy with the apology and he then got on a scooter and headed back towards Amiens Street.

Ms Tserendorj’s attacker was subsequently charged in relation to this incident and pleaded guilty to attempted robbery.

Outlining the reasons behind his decision to allow Ms Odelade’s evidence to go before the jury, Mr Justice Hunt said this confrontation was very close both in time and in distance to the incident which led to Ms Tserendorj’s death.

The judge said that once again, the accused was going around “creating one sided confrontations”.

He said the testimony was put forward by the prosecution as evidence of the accused’s intention and his behaviour and the judge said he was “quite satisfied” this was admissible at trial.

“It is clearly pertinent to the finding of the fact of intention and what that intention was, and it is relevant having regard to the building blocks of the case.”

He said the real point of the evidence was what the accused said, having produced the knife.

“It is not speculation, there are obvious meanings to be attributed to this,” he added.

At the original trial, Sean Gillane SC for the Director of Public Prosecutions told the court that as the attempted robbery happened after the fatal attack, it undermined the accused’s claim to gardai that he panicked and was sorry.

However the original trial judge, Ms Justice Ring, said the jurors might speculate that the accused was referencing the earlier stabbing when he said that it “could have been a lot worse”.

Ms Justice Ring said the boy made the comment while the woman was walking away and did not attempt to further engage with her but instead left and therefore the meaning of those words was unclear.

The original trial jury watched footage showing the boy’s movements before and after the assault on Ms Tserendorj but did not view this incident.

Pathology Evidence

The pathologist who conducted the post-mortem on Ms Tserendorj, Doctor Heidi Okkers, told the jury that due to surgical intervention that was undertaken in an effort to save Ms Tserendorj’s life, it was difficult to estimate the depth of the stab wound that resulted in her death.

Dr Okkers said that she identified a penetration tract of 6cm and a surgical incision of 12cm on the deceased from just below the right earlobe below the angle of the jaw towards the neck.

The only injury was just below the earlobe, and this was a horizontal partially-healed stab wound of 1.5cm.

In response to cross-examination by defence counsel Michael O’Higgins SC, Dr Okkers said that due to the surgical intervention, it was difficult to say the exact extent of the injury as the intervention may have involved some cutting by the surgeon.

“I can’t say how deep the surgical intervention was,” she said.

“If the side of the artery was transected, clearly it went in 1.5cm?” asked Mr O’Higgins.

“At least,” replied Dr Okkers.

“But after that, there are unknown quantities?” asked defence counsel.

Dr Okkers confirmed this was correct. She said the blade “had to go in 1.5cm, perhaps more”.

Mr Justice Hunt asked the pathologist to confirm the depth of the tract she identified in the deceased. She replied that the tract was 6cm.

“The surgeon operates with precision instruments?” asked Mr Justice Hunt. Doctor Okkers confirmed this was the case.

In a legal submission made in the absence of the jury, Mr O’Higgins said he objected to Mr Justice Hunt’s question as he submitted it was an attempt to “pour cold water” on the defence’s case.

However, Mr Justice Hunt said he did not accept Mr O’Higgins’ objection.

“I’m perfectly entitled to ask questions,” the judge had replied.