The People (Attorney-General) v Ellen Keogh

CourtCourt of Criminal Appeal
Judgment Date16 June 1944
Date16 June 1944

Court of Criminal Appeal.

The People (Attorney-General) v. Keogh.
THE PEOPLE (at the suit of the Attorney-General)

Criminal law - Appeal - Conviction for murder - Rider added to verdict - Whether rider part of verdict - Ambiguity of rider - Reasonable doubt as to what meaning jury intended to express - Conviction set aside - New trial ordered - Costs.

Criminal Appeal.

The applicant, Ellen Keogh, was tried at the Central Criminal Court for the murder of her illegitimate child.

She was a married woman living with her four children and her brother. Her husband was working in England, and had not been home for four years. On the 8th December, 1943, she gave birth to an illegitimate male child, the father of which was John Mitchell, a man who was living with her

in her house at the time of the birth. The dead body of the child was recovered from a river in the neighbourhood of the applicant's house, by members of the Civic Guard, on the 13th January, 1944. The body was in a sack which also contained a large stone and the afterbirth. There was a piece of cloth twisted around the child's neck and the medical evidence established that the child had been strangled.

The applicant made two statements to the police which were admitted in evidence at her trial. In the first statement she said that she had been attended by a doctor at the birth; that the child was premature and still-born, and that the doctor had taken it away with him. In her second statement she said that when she discovered that she was pregnant, she told Mitchell, who told her not to worry, but to keep indoors and not let the people see her and that he would do away with the baby when it would come. She stated that she was alone when the baby was born and that it was born alive about midnight and was a full-time baby. She stated that she called Mitchell, who was in the kitchen, and that he came into the room immediately with a sack in his hand. She told him the baby was born and he wrapped a bit of sheet round it tight and it gave a little cry when he did so. He then stuffed it down into the bag and made off with it. She stated that she burned the after-birth.

At her trial, the applicant gave evidence and denied that Mitchell had said that he would do away with the child. She said that he said he would take it away and leave it somewhere where it would be safe. She stated that after the birth of the child she was in great pain and called out "Is there anyone there?" Mitchell came into the room and she then fainted. When she recovered consciousness the child was gone. About half an hour after she recovered consciousness Mitchell came into the room and she asked him where he had left the child. He replied "It is all right,"and went out of the room. The following morning she again asked him where he had left the child and he said "Didn't I tell you it was all right?" On the evening of that day she asked him what he did with the child and he replied "I thought you were asleep. I took the child away and put it into a sack and I put a stone in with it and I threw it into the river Deel."

The jury found the accused guilty of murder and added the following rider to their verdict:—

"As the jury are unanimously of the opinion that the accused had, in the circumstances, no option but to aid and abet, they strongly recommend her to the mercy of the Court."

The Judge sentenced her to death. Counsel for the accused applied for a certificate that it was a fit case for appeal, but the Judge refused to grant the certificate. The accused applied to the Court of Criminal Appeal for leave to appeal.

The grounds of the application were, inter alia:

"1. That the verdict was inconsistent and unreliable inas-much as the recommendation states facts which are inconsistent with the guilt of murder.

2. That the verdict and recommendation returned by the jury amounted to a finding that defendant was guilty but in the circumstances when she had no control over her actions or the events which happened, and that this finding, properly construed, was a finding of 'Not Guilty,' which verdict should have been entered by the learned trial Judge.

3. That the verdict should be set aside as vague and unreliable and inconsistent, and as showing on its face that the jury did not appreciate the issue they had to try.

4. That the verdict and trial were unsatisfactory.

5. That the learned trial Judge should have entered a verdict of acquittal, or have obtained from the jury an explanation of the meaning of the facts set out in the recommendation attached to the verdict."


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