Saturday, May 23, 2009

Black British footballer convicted of killing girlfriend in double jeopardy case

His victims were also black

A footballer yesterday admitted killing his former girlfriend, more than six years after he was cleared of the crime. Mario Celaire, 31, is the first person to be convicted of a crime for which he had been found not guilty by a jury. The double jeopardy rule that prevented anyone from being tried twice for the same crime was changed in 2005 for cases where “new and compelling evidence” could be produced.

In Celaire’s case, the new evidence included a confession to his new girlfriend that he battered Cassandra McDermott, 19, to death in November 2001. He then tried to kill Kara Hoyte, who was also 19, but she survived and was eventually able to give evidence against him. At the Old Bailey yesterday he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and attempted murder.

Celaire, a former Brentford player, was with the non-league club Maidstone United when he was arrested in 2007 in an investigation that would bring him back to court. He was known to the club’s fans as Mario McNish, having changed his name the year before.

In 2002 the Old Bailey was told that he beat Ms McDermott unconscious at her mother’s house in Norbury, South London, after years of domestic violence. He failed to do anything to help her or to raise the alarm and she choked to death on her own vomit.

The victim’s sister, Andrea, found her body almost 24 hours later. Celaire claimed that Ms McDermott was alive and well when he left her and the jury acquitted him of murder and manslaughter after deliberating for less than three hours.

But in February 2007 he admitted the killing to Ms Hoyte, a part-time model, after she found papers relating to the court case at a flat in Walthamstow, East London. He then flew into a rage and struck her on the head with a hammer.

Doctors thought that Ms Hoyte would die from her brain injuries. But nine months after the attack, despite paralysis down one side of her body and extreme difficulties communicating, she was able to speak to detectives.

Prosecution lawyers applied to reopen the inquiry into Ms McDermott’s killing and successfully got the acquittal quashed in the Court of Appeal.

Celaire was due to stand trial for murder yesterday until the prosecution accepted his guilty pleas. Ms Hoyte was due to give evidence via video link with the help of a doctor. Because of the severity of her injuries, provision had been made for her to write down or draw some of her evidence with cameras relaying images back to the courtroom.

Simon Denison, QC, for the prosecution, said that the families of both victims had been consulted before a decision was made to accept the guilty pleas.

Cassandra McDermott’s mother, Jennifer, 58, and two older sisters were in court to see Celaire finally admit his guilt.

Later Ms McDermott, who has set up a domestic abuse charity in memory of her daughter, said: “The change in his plea is an indicator that he knew he couldn’t get away with it. We have waited years and, luckily for us, we haven’t waited in vain.”

Sophia Springer, 39, Cassandra’s sister, said: “To have the acquittal overturned is a great achievement for us.” Andrea McDermott, 37, described how Celaire had “haunted” the family over the years by turning up at places where he knew they would be.

She said: “The double jeopardy rule will give so many people a chance to go back and fight again. We didn’t give up, friends didn’t give up and the police didn’t give up.”

Michael Borrelli, QC, for Celaire, successfully applied to the court for his client to be given a psychiatric assessment before he is sentenced on July 3.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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