A man jailed for raping a woman he met after she became lost on a night out in Dublin city has had his conviction quashed on appeal.
Egyptian national Mohamed Okda (33), formerly of Coolfin, Rathdowney, Co Laois, had pleaded not guilty to two counts of raping the woman and one count of sexual assault at a flat in Dublin city centre on February 9, 2014.
He was unanimously found guilty on all counts by a jury following a seven day trial and sentenced to 11 years imprisonment with the final year suspended by Mr Justice Michael Moriarty on October 23, 2017.
The Court of Appeal quashed Okda’s conviction on Thursday and ordered a retrial over the trial judge’s failure to instruct the jury at all on the presumption of innocence.
Giving judgment in the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice John Edwards said that although both sides referred to the presumption of innocence in their closing speeches, the trial judge “unfortunately” omitted to do so.
Mr Justice Edwards said it was “almost inconceivable” that one of the most experienced criminal trial judges on the bench at that time would simply forget to give the jury several important instructions.
He said the trial judge proceeded directly into this charge of the jury, or instructions to them, following “succinct” closing speeches by both the prosecution and defence. He went a certain distance before sending the jury home at lunch, stating that he didn’t want the jury to hear “three long speeches” in one sitting.
Regrettably, Mr Justice Edwards said the “well-intentioned” decision to break his instructions overnight, and resume the following morning “may have had the unintended consequence of causing” everyone in the courtroom “to lose focus” and be “somehow under the mistaken impression after the overnight break that the judge had covered more ground on the previous day than he had in fact done”.
Mr Justice Edwards said the failure to instruct the jury at all on the presumption of innocence was a “fatal flaw” that rendered Okda’s trial unsatisfactory and his conviction unsafe.
He said the failure to instruct a jury on the presumption of innocence had previously occurred in a 2003 trial that lead to a successful appeal. In that case, the late Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman said the failure to instruct the jury on the presumption of innocence risked “understating its importance and perhaps relegating it to the status of a mere technical rule”.
Mr Justice Edwards, who sat with President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice Brian McGovern, ordered a retrial. Okda was remanded in custody to appear before the Central Criminal Court on Monday next.
In her evidence to the Central Criminal Court, the married mother said that she lived outside Dublin and was visiting the city with two female friends for a night out. At the end of the night, she said she was drunk and tired.
She lost her friends and became upset because they weren't responding to texts or phone calls. The accused man approached her and offered to help her find her friends, she said.
He suggested she come back to the flat where she could continue to try to contact her friends on her phone. She said that once she was back in the flat he raped her.
She said she feared for her life during the attack and begged Okda not to kill her. After it ended she ran out of the flat and waved down a passing taxi-driver who saw she was in distress and took her to gardai.