Double jeopardy killer convicted

May 22, 2009
Jonathan Harwood

In a legal first, footballer Mario Celaire admitted killing his ex-girlfriend despite being acquitted at an earlier trial

In a legal first, a former footballer who had been cleared by a jury of murdering his ex-girlfriend has now been convicted of her killing. It is the first time someone has been convicted of an offence they had previously been acquitted of by a jury. It comes after an amendment to the 'double jeopardy' rule, which now allows a suspect to be tried twice for the same crime if compelling new evidence is found.

Mario Celaire, 31, is the first person to be convicted under the new laws since the change was introduced in 2005. He was acquitted of murder and manslaughter following the death of his girlfriend Cassandra McDermott in 2001 - but when police investigated an attack on another girlfriend in 2007 they uncovered new evidence which prompted the Crown Prosecution service to charge him over the death of McDermott for a second time.

On the day his second murder trial was due to begin at the Old Bailey, Celaire admitted the manslaughter of McDermott, and another charge of attempting to kill his other girlfriend, Kara Hoyte.

The case was based on a confession and evidence that could not be used before
It is the first time someone has been convicted of a crime that they had previously been acquitted of. The new laws state that cleared suspects can face a retrial if 'new and compelling' evidence can be produced. Before then, the double jeopardy rule had been one of the cornerstones of the British legal system. Other recent changes to the law mean that prosecutors can also apply to the judge to introduce negative character evidence, such as previous convictions, to support their case.

The second case against Celaire, a footballer who played for Brentford and other non-league teams, was based on a confession he made to a new girlfriend and additional evidence that he had repeatedly assaulted McDermott during their relationship, which was not allowed to be used in the first case.

In his original trial in 2002 the Old Bailey was told Celaire had beaten McDermott unconscious at her mother's house in Norbury, South London. He failed to do anything to help her or to raise the alarm and she choked to death on her own vomit. Her body was found the following day by her sister. But Celaire claimed the woman was fine when he left her and the jury returned not guilty verdicts.

But in February 2007 he admitted the killing to his then-girlfriend Kara Hoyte, after she found papers relating to the court case. He then flew into a rage and attacked her with a hammer, leaving her with injuries so severe she was lucky to survive.

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