Thursday


A fatal mistake



Manuela Riedo had arrived with 42 fellow students and two lecturers to improve their English and brush up their Irish history. They also intended to have some fun while they studied.

On the evening of Saturday October 6, 2007, Manuela had arranged to join friends in a pub in the city centre where they would sample Irish stew and enjoy an evening of traditional Gaelic folk-music.

She was staying with an Irish family in the suburb of Renmore Park and after an early supper was about to return to the city centre to meet her friends when she announced she  intended to walk the half-mile to the pub along a rural  path near the Dublin-Galway railway track known as The Line.

Her hosts advised against it. There had been violent attacks along that secluded tree-shrouded and unlit path. Far better to take a bus or a taxi.   

Manuela agreed to take their advice — but didn't.  She may have thought that nothing would happen to her if this were Switzerland, so nothing would happen in Ireland. It was to be a tragic — and fatal mistake. Her hosts didn't hear Manuela return that night — she had a key and had expected to be late back. Nor were they worried when she didn't appear at breakfast, assuming she was having a lie-in.

Then the phone rang: it was a tutor asking why Manuela hadn't arrived for a class. It was only then that her bed was found not to have been slept in and alarm bells began to ring.

Less than an hour later, a 29-year-old unemployed labourer named Gerald Barry made a 999 call to Galway police and said he had found a woman's body while taking a short-cut through The Line.

Meeting detectives five minutes later, Gerald Barry took them to the scene. He said he had noticed a rucksack in a clump of bushes and a purse on the ground. Nearby was "something pale in colour" which he found to be a woman's body covered with a coat.

He had not disturbed the crime scene but immediately rung the police. "No one should walk through here late at night," Barry said. "I wouldn't go that way myself."

The body was identified as that of Manuela Riedo. After less than four days in Ireland she had been savagely attacked and murdered. Her mobile phone and digital camera were missing.

A shocked Patrick Creed, the director of studies at the Galway Language Centre, told the reporters: "We have never experienced anything like this before. The worst that's ever happened is that someone's had a bicycle stolen."

A memorial service was hastily arranged at a Galway church and as students and friends lit candles the parish priest, Father Dick Lyng, said the local community was anxious to show solidarity with Manuela's family in their unimaginable loss.

"We hope to send a signal to them that they are not alone in their grief," he said. After the service, the students and their tutors cut their trip short and returned to Freiburg in Switzerland as 50 police and detectives moved in on the murder scene.

It was not long before they had a prime suspect in their sights. What amazed hardened detectives is that he had been allowed to remain a free man.

For in little more than a decade Gerald Barry had left an astonishing trail of human misery in his wake.

He was still under investigation for attacking another foreign national — a Frenchwoman — only seven weeks earlier and was currently on bail for offences linked to breaking probation orders.

He had previously been accused of the manslaughter of a man who was out on his stag-night — the charge was reduced to violent disorder and Barry was jailed for five years.

Before that he had spent two years in prison for blinding a man in a pub fight. On his release he was constantly in trouble with the law for stealing cars, theft, violence, robbery and minor fraud and had spent more than half his adult life in jail. But had he murdered Manuela Riedo? He was adamant that he had stumbled across the body accidentally, but police didn't believe him —  and a week after the murder, five patrol cars surrounded the Barry family house at dawn to arrest Gerald Barry.

They knew he would not come quietly and they were right — the suspect was only subdued after a violent struggle.   

While Barry was in custody a helicopter rushed his DNA samples to a forensic lab in Dublin — and they were found to match samples found on the murder scene. Six weeks later, still protesting his innocence, Gerald Barry appeared before Dublin Central Criminal Court charged with the murder of Manuela Riedo. He denied everything. He hadn't attacked the Swiss student as she was walking to meet her friends, hadn't strangled her and knew nothing about her phone and camera, even though they had been found hidden in his house.

But on the fourth day of the trial, prompted by defence counsel Martin Giblin, he told a long rambling story which contradicted everything he had said previously.

Yes, he had met Manuela on the night she died — she asked him for the time outside a shop in Renmore. She said she was going to the city centre and he offered to show her a short cut along The Line.

 "We talked as we walked and got on really well. We sat down for a while under a tree and she didn't seem to mind. Then she said she had to go to meet her friends in a pub in the city.

"I tried to stop her because I was enjoying being with her. I tugged at her coat and she fell and kind of flopped over."

"I shook her and got no response. I panicked and dragged the body into the bushes. I hadn't done anything violent to her. Then I took her phone and camera and went. I lied to the police because I thought the situation might disappear."    

Isabel Kennedy for the prosecution told Barry: "Your evidence is utterly lacking in credulity.
Your failure to call an ambulance did not suggest that you were involved in an accidental death as you claim. This is a clear case of unlawful killing."

Defender Giblin told the jury that although anyone must be filled with a sense of outrage at Manuela's death, the prosecution hadn't proved that Barry intended to kill or cause serious physical harm. "Barry did behave in a despicable way, but he is not a murderer," Martin Giblin said.

The jury thought otherwise and found Barry guilty of murder in less than two hours, adding that they thought it appalling that a man under investigation for serious offences had been allowed bail and so was free to carry out a murder.

They added: "It's a beggars belief that a man with a previous history of repeated vicious assaults was granted bail in any circumstances." Sentencing Gerald Barry to a life in jail, Justice White said he was in complete agreement with the verdict.

He added: "Every right-minded person would agree." Barry was also jailed for 10 years for other violent offences.

Speaking to Manuela's parents, the judge said that he hoped they could "find it in their hearts to forgive the Irish nation for their terrible loss of a daughter which any parents would be proud to call their own."



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