Analysis & Comment

Eimear Cotter: 'Two boys, one girl and a tragic tale of murder, horror and heartbreak'

At the heart of every murder trial is a death. Someone has died in either violent, suspicious or tragic circumstances.

The trial of two 14-year-old boys for murdering schoolgirl Ana Kriegel has been particularly difficult for all involved – two teenagers on trial for causing another teen’s death. All of them so young. Three families ruined.

There has been huge public interest in this trial because the boys are the youngest in the State to be tried, and convicted, of murder.

They were also not your typical “troubled” teens – they had not come to Garda attention before this – and both boys had loving and supportive parents and families. To use that expression, they came from “good homes”.

These boys could be your children or my children. Ana could have been your daughter or my daughter.

Perhaps that is why this trial has been so shocking, and perhaps that’s why, after 20 years in the courts, this trial has been the most difficult to report on. When you have your own children, any trial involving children is upsetting. This trial even more so because it provided a glimpse – an often unpleasant one – into the lives of our teenagers.

The casual bullying of Ana, the pornography on Boy A’s phone, the Google searches for child porn and animal porn, the possible interest in Satanism – yes, issues particular to this trial but also issues that are of real concern for many parents.

It was hard to listen to the evidence at times, even for investigating gardai, who knew the evidence and had put the case together.

Hearing Geraldine and Patric Kriegel talk so lovingly about Ana, a beautiful, caring, quirky teenager who was “endlessly bullied” just because she was a little different, was heartbreaking.

We all know a child who is a little different. Those differences should be celebrated, not ridiculed.

Boy B’s wholly negative descriptions of Ana were upsetting. Ana was “outcasted” because she was “different” and “weird”, he told Garda interviewers.

Boy B said he “thought of her as a weirdo. Someone I shouldn’t be around”.

“If you asked her to hang out she’d probably say no,” Boy B said – a claim which was so far from the truth as to be laughable. Ana craved friendship, her mother said.

Retired State Pathologist Prof Marie Cassidy’s evidence was perhaps the most difficult of all. It took two hours to hear what happened to Ana in that derelict farmhouse.

Prof Cassidy found Ana died due to blunt force trauma to the head and neck. There was evidence of penetration or attempted penetration of the vagina.

Professor Cassidy identified more than 50 areas of injury on Ana’s head and body, all of which she outlined to the court.

It was also hard to hold back the tears when Brendan Grehan, the prosecuting barrister, told the jury that Ana did not succumb into unconsciousness but “fought for her life”.

“Verdict”, the WhatsApp messages screamed. It was 2pm on Tuesday and the jury had been deliberating for more than 14 hours.

Within two or three minutes, Courtroom 9 was filled with lawyers, journalists, gardai and the families at the centre of this trial.

Jurors walked into court at 2.11pm and took their seats in the jury box.

A court is a funny place just before a verdict is announced. A sort of nervous anticipation descends over the room – a palpable fear of what the outcome will be.

The foreman was asked if the jury had reached a verdict on which they all agreed.

She said they had, and handed the issue paper containing the charges against the boys to the clerk.

The boys did not stand in the dock for the verdict but remained seated with their families. Both boys, flanked by their parents, held tightly on to their hands.

The clerk then read out the verdicts. First saying Boy A was guilty of murder and aggravated sexual assault, and then saying Boy B was guilty of murder.

There was a brief silence as people processed what the clerk had said.

Boy A’s mother cried freely with a tissue to her face. Her son had tears in his eyes. The family then embraced before Boy A left the court.

In his closing speech, prosecutor Brendan Grehan SC had said there was an “overwhelming forensic case” against Boy A. His DNA was on her neck, his semen was on her top and Ana’s blood was on his boots.

There was a sense the guilty verdict for Boy A was considered a possibility.

Not so for Boy B. When guilty of murder was read out for Boy B, he momentarily let go of his parents and brought his hands up to his mouth. There was a look of disbelief on his face.

His father looked into the middle distance and said quietly ”guilty” as if to ask if it was true.

Boy B’s father then kissed his son’s hand. When the judge had finished, he began to shout at gardai. “You bunch of scumbags, you f*cking pr*cks. Innocent boy,” he was heard to say.

Boy B hugged his mother in a long embrace before he was led away into custody.

The Kriegel family sat silently. Geraldine, who had had her eyes closed prior to the verdict, cried quietly, as did Patric.

The couple looked up at the jury as they filed out, nodding in acknowledgment to them. Then the Kriegels huddled with their family, crying with relief.

They had shown “enormous grace” during the trial, something which Boy A’s lawyer Patrick Gageby remarked upon. It is hoped that they can now properly grieve Ana, in private.

The boys have been remanded in custody until July 15.

Meanwhile, the fallout from the trial continues.

On Wednesday, the DPP secured a temporary injunction ordering Facebook and Twitter to remove any photographs or material identifying Boy A and Boy B. It also restrained publication of any further material identifying the teens.

On Thursday, the injunction was amended to cover material or photos tending to identify Boy A and Boy B which the social media giants “become aware of or which is brought to their attention”.

Damien Colgan SC, for Boy B, said his client’s family had been forced into hiding after he was identified in material published online.

Separately, an entirely innocent teenager had been wrongly implicated on social media as one of the boys, a lawyer for a school said.

Shelley Horan BL said there were allegations being made about other children and a staff member had been wrongly targeted online.

Andrew McKeown BL, representing Boy A, said online threats had been made against both boys, their families and communities and there was concern for their safety.

He said one user had given an “image of the fate the user thought needed to be meted out to the two boys.”

Rossa Fanning SC, for Facebook, said the company had acted “extremely expeditiously” to remove any material.

Facebook had also used image-matching technology to block photographs from being re-posted by other users.

Andrew Fitzpatrick SC, for Twitter, said it had taken immediate steps to remove the posts once it had been informed of them. However, Mr Fitzpatrick said Twitter cannot in advance stop what users chose to post on its platform.

Mr Justice Michael White said An Garda Siochana should “pursue with vigour” anyone who posted material online identifying the boys.

He accepted the bona fides of Facebook and Twitter and that they had acted in good faith in how they had dealt with his matter.

Judge White said the trial of the two boys was “unique and sensitive”. He said a major concern had been that “some idiots on social media” would breach the orders of the court and “now that has come to pass”.

He said the teenagers were children and entitled, under the law, to anonymity. Anyone who was deliberately flouting the law should be clear about the seriousness of what they were doing, he added.

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