By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
DONNA Vasyli gasped in shock and fainted in a courtroom yesterday after hearing that a jury unanimously found her guilty of the stabbing death of her husband, millionaire podiatrist Philip Vasyli, at their home in Old Fort Bay.
Her sentencing is scheduled for November 10; however her legal team plans to appeal the verdict.
The 55-year-old widow – who was crying even before the six-man, six woman jury entered the courtroom – required two women police officers to lift her off the floor of the caged prisoner’s dock moments after the guilty verdict was returned.
The verdict came after nearly four hours of deliberation into three weeks’ of evidence concerning the March 24 incident.
The Australian’s disbelief at the outcome of the trial was loudly echoed by a dozen relatives and supporters seated at the back of the courtroom. Some screamed: “Oh my God,” and “she’s innocent” along with “that’s my daughter!”
Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Neil Braithwaite strongly objected to the behaviour of the Vasyli family in court and Senior Justice Stephen Isaacs agreed that it was not acceptable.
The judge reiterated the jury’s findings to Vasyli and asked if she wished to say anything or speak through either of her lawyers, Elliot Lockhart, QC, and Murrio Ducille.
At one point, Vasyli was heard saying that she “loved” her husband.
Three police officers were required to help escort the widow, who seemed unable to walk on her own, to a holding cell to await transport to the Department of Correctional Services. She was housed there on remand between her March 30 arraignment and July 30, when she was granted $200,000 bail.
Outside the courtroom, Mr Ducille spoke on behalf of the family who had all left.
“Obviously we’re disappointed at the verdict,” Mr Ducille said. “It’s really in the province of the jury to return (a verdict), but of course, they must return a verdict according to the evidence and her position is that it is not so.
“But their verdict is still sacrosanct. We have to accept that but the process is not yet complete. Obviously we’re going to file an appeal with this batch and deal with it from there on. Everybody has a role to play. They have done and played their role and we have to respect it and accept it.”
Speaking directly to his client’s outburst in court, the veteran lawyer said: “Obviously she’s disappointed. And obviously we’re concerned about her health and she professes her innocence from day one and it continues. Nothing has changed in that regard.”
Prior to excusing the jury to deliberate on the evidence at 12.45pm, Senior Justice Isaacs spent more than an hour giving a summation of the case and explaining the law.
“This case is one based on circumstantial evidence,” the judge told the jury, adding that “it is important that you examine it with care”.
“If the circumstances point to two equal conclusions, then you can’t be sure and speculating in a case amounts to nothing more than guessing.”
He told them that they had heard evidence from a number of witnesses, forensic analyst Samantha Wandzek, who produced a DNA report that was read into evidence, pathologist Dr Caryn Sands, who spoke to the extent of the injury the victim received, and Dr Rochelle Knowles, who spoke to the marks found on the hands of the accused.
Speaking directly to the decision of the accused opting not to give testimony, the judge said: “The fact that she has not given evidence means nothing. On the other hand, it means that there is no evidence to undermine, contradict or explain the evidence of the prosecution.”
The judge said that the Crown had to establish a number of elements to warrant a conviction on the charge of murder and that there was little evidence raised for provocation to be considered.
“Firstly, they must prove the death occurred. We have photographs of the deceased and the evidence of Dr Caryn Sands, and Katie Kemp identified the body of her uncle,” the jury heard.
“Secondly, they must prove the death occurred within a year and a day of the injury being inflicted. You heard the evidence of Dr Sands, who said that with the kind of injury he (Philip Vasyli) received, he would have died in minutes.”
“Then, they must prove his death was caused by unlawful harm. He had a knife plunged into the left side of the neck, severing a major blood vessel. For harm to be lawful, it must be caused without lawful justification. In this case, the defendant denies injuring the deceased at all. So the issue of self-defence doesn’t arise.
“The Crown must prove that unlawful harm was caused by the actions of Donna Vasyli. That is the crux of this case. And five, they must prove that by her actions, she intentionally caused his death,” the judge said.
He explained that for them to arrive at a verdict, “the simple formula for you to decide intention is to look at the actions of an accused person before, during and after an event of a murder”.
On Wednesday, the jury had been given closing arguments from Crown prosecutors and lawyers for the accused murderer as to whether they should find her guilty of her husband’s stabbing death.
Mr Lockhart said the murder weapon did not have Donna Vasyli’s DNA anywhere on it nor were police able to find “a single fingerprint of Donna Vasyli lifted from any part of the crime scene”.
He invited the jury to acquit his client of the charge because the Crown’s case “logically does not stand up to scrutiny”.
Meanwhile, Mr Braithwaite, one of the Crown’s prosecutors, told the jury that the accused was trying to conceal her crime.
“She’s lying to cover up what she did to her husband, it’s as simple as that,” Mr Braithwaite said.
During the trial, the jury heard that the victim was abusive and had a drug habit, which placed a strain on the couple’s marriage. He was also drunk and had fallen down a flight of stairs in his home on the day he died, the jury was told during the trial.