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Jury fails to reach verdict in trial of boy (16) accused of murdering Urantsetseg Tserendorj

Urantsetseg Tserendorj died from a stab wound in the neck.

LAST UPDATE | 6 Apr 2022

A JURY AT the Central Criminal Court has failed to reach a verdict in the trial of a 16-year-old boy accused of murdering Urantsetseg Tserendorj during a winter lockdown in 2021.

The teenager had accepted that he stabbed Ms Tserendorj in the neck causing her death but his lawyers argued that he was trying to rob her and did not intend to kill or cause her serious harm. They asked the jury to find him not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter.

The jury, having spent more than eight hours considering their verdict, returned this afternoon and said that following “multiple reviews” of the evidence they were unable to agree on a verdict. They had been told by the trial judge, Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring that they could return a verdict if ten of them agreed.

Ms Justice Ring said it was a difficult case and thanked the jury for their service.
The case will go back into the Central Criminal Court list.

The accused, who cannot be identified because he is a minor, had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Ms Tserendorj but guilty to her manslaughter on January 29, 2021. The State did not accept his plea.

He also pleaded guilty to producing a knife and to attempting to rob Ms Tserendorj on a walkway between George’s Dock and Custom House Quay in the IFSC, Dublin on January 20, 2021.

Ulambayer Surenkhor, the deceased’s husband, gave evidence during the trial. With the help of an interpreter he said that he and his wife are from Mongolia. He moved to Ireland 16 years ago and she followed nine months later. They worked as cleaners in Dublin and their two children went to school in Ireland.

Gardai were searching for a stolen electric bike when they called to the home of the 16-year-old accused. When they arrived the then 14-year-old’s grandmother, who was already upset, thought she knew why the gardai were there; a short time earlier her grandson had told her, “that woman that was stabbed in the IFSC, that was me.”

She told Garda David O’Callaghan, who gave evidence during the trial, that the boy had “done something terrible” and was planning to hand himself in. When they entered the house, gardai found the boy in his upstairs bedroom. “I did it,” he said, “I stabbed that girl, I robbed her, it was me, I stabbed that woman at CHQ [Customs House Quay].”

Garda O’Callaghan was unsure what the boy was talking about but cautioned him, brought him downstairs and again cautioned him in front of his grandmother before asking him what happened. “I went out on a bike with a knife on me to rob someone,” the boy said. “I was around CHQ. I saw a woman with a mask on and I went to rob her. I panicked, I pulled a knife out of my pocket. I stabbed that woman in the neck, I done it. I didn’t mean to do it. I’m sorry for it.”

The boy’s grandmother was called by the defence after the prosecution had finished its case. She said that when the accused was born he had to be weaned off heroin as his mother was an addict. The grandmother took the boy from the hospital and raised him as one of her own.

Since the age of 12, she said, the boy has been abusing drugs and would steal to pay for his habit.

Defence barrister Michael O’Higgins SC told the jury that the accused was looking for money for drugs when he approached Urantsetseg Tserendorj and tried to steal her handbag. She didn’t let go and in the seconds that their exchange lasted she suffered the single stab wound to her neck that caused her death.

The seriousness of the wound wasn’t immediately apparent and Ms Tserendorj was able to call her husband Ulambayer Surenkhor for help and walk the short distance from Custom House Quay to Connolly Station. Mr Surenkhor found her there, holding her neck but with only a small amount of blood visible. Paramedics checked her vital signs and they were all normal but because of the location of the wound they decided to bring her to hospital and rang ahead for the emergency team to prepare for her arrival.

Mr Surenkhor could not go with them because of covid protocols so he walked home alone. He had left the house in such a hurry that he was still wearing his slippers.

It took just three minutes for the ambulance to get to the Mater Hospital but by then Ms Tserendorj was struggling to breathe and by the time she entered the emergency room her face had turned blue. Her heart stopped beating and although doctors were able to restart it, the damage had already been done.

Dr Jennifer Hastings told the trial that the deceased’s brain had been starved of oxygen due to blood loss. She was pronounced dead nine days after first being admitted to hospital. Her husband, who was allowed to visit once doctors realised the seriousness of the injury, was at her bedside throughout.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Heidi Okkers told the trial that the stab wound had partially severed the internal carotid artery – the main artery bringing blood to the brain. She agreed with a suggestion by defence counsel, Michael O’Higgins SC, that there was an “element of misfortune in this injury”, before going on to say that stab wounds to the neck usually damage less vital structures such as the muscles or less crucial veins and arteries.

Gardai began an investigation as soon as the report of the stabbing was made. They canvassed the area for CCTV and quickly discovered that cameras outside the IFSC had captured the assault. From there they were able to trace the movements of the deceased from her workplace at State Street and the movements of the accused as he cycled the area. The jury saw footage of the fatal assault.

In his closing speech Sean Gillane SC, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, said that the central issue for the jury was to determine the accused’s state of mind when “he did what he undoubtedly did”. He said the prosecution case was that the accused made a decision to go out and rob someone with a knife and cycled around Dublin city centre until he came across Ms Tserendorj, walking home from work alone.

Counsel added: “The decision is taken by him to rob her with that knife. It was his decision to approach her and confront her and it was his decision to produce the knife and his decision to use it.” The accused stabbed Ms Tserendorj in the neck just below the ear using a serrated knife, counsel said. “What is the natural and probable consequence of that?” he asked.

“A knife to the neck can only result in serious injury,” he said, adding that anyone inflicting such an injury must have intended to cause serious injury and is therefore guilty of murder.

Michael O’Higgins SC, for the defence, told the jury that they must consider whether the accused intended to cause serious injury or death.

Counsel said his client, who was a child, did not have honourable intentions but had a drug dependency that he paid for by stealing from people. Such crimes are the “bread and butter” of the Circuit Criminal Court, counsel said, and while it is unusual to see a 14-year-old committing such crimes it is not unheard of. He was looking for a soft target, someone vulnerable, and found Ms Tserendorj walking on her own.

“I’m not hiding from that,” Mr O’Higgins said, “but I am asking you not to hold it against him any more than you need to to determine his intention or his state of mind. The intention was to get money from a person.”

He said robbers generally do not want to seriously injure their target, but want to “get the money as quickly and cleanly as possible”. The robbery was not successful, Mr O’Higgins said, but there was no secondary motive to seriously injure the deceased.

He asked the jury to look at the CCTV footage which he said shows that following the encounter Ms Tserendorj walked away, not showing signs of any serious injury, while the accused cycled past her and away. It is a reasonable view that he did not know he had injured her in any significant way, counsel said, and he asked why, if he intended to kill her, did he not act on that before cycling away.

Mr O’Higgins said that a security guard told the trial that at around the time of the stabbing, a youth matching the accused’s description approached him looking for a cigarette and was clearly intoxicated. Counsel asked the jury to consider the impact intoxication would have on a 14-year-old’s coordination, and whether he could have been so intoxicated that he could not have formed an intent.

He said the accused did not “charge in” and strike Ms Tserendorj with maximum force in the neck. There were “flailing arms and moving around”, he said, and it is hard to tell if the injury was inflicted accidentally or in a “moment of clumsiness with no decision underpinning it”.

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