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Monday 18 December 2017

Mum was choked by cable ties after 'violent struggle', murder trial told

Mum-of-one Sonia Blount was found strangled to death in a Tallaght hotel room in February 2014
Mum-of-one Sonia Blount was found strangled to death in a Tallaght hotel room in February 2014

A young mother was strangled and suffocated to death by her former boyfriend, who was caught on CCTV running from the hotel where she died, a trial has heard.

Sonia Blount's body was found hours later by hotel staff, along with an imitation firearm, cable ties and duct tape.

It appeared a "violent struggle" had taken place.

She was fully clothed and the jury was told it may hear evidence that the accused, Eric Locke, had dressed the body after her death.

There were ligature marks around Ms Blount's neck and a blood-stained top had been stuffed deeply into her mouth, with such force that it had damaged her teeth.

Mr Locke (35) has admitted that he caused the death of the mother-of-one at The Plaza Hotel, Tallaght, in February 2014, but he has denied her murder.

He had been in a brief relationship with Ms Blount (31) but it had fizzled out and the court had heard he did not take the break-up well.

It is the State's case that Mr Locke, of St John's Park East in Clondalkin, assumed a false identity on social media and lured his former girlfriend to a hotel bedroom, where he strangled her to death.

In her evidence to the Central Criminal Court, State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy said that she completed the post-mortem on Ms Blount on February 17, 2014.

She said the victim was 5ft 2in, of very slim build and had long brown hair.

Prof Cassidy said her nails were long and manicured and her toes were painted. Two of her fingernails had been chipped.

Ms Blount was fully dressed in a black vest top, black jeans and black boots.

Prosecutor Remy Farrell said there may be evidence in the trial that Mr Locke dressed the body after death.

Prof Cassidy agreed this was "an extremely difficult process". She said the victim died as a result of asphyxia, or a lack of oxygen to the brain.

This was caused by compression of the neck, which was exaggerated by suffocation due to a gag in her mouth.

Bruises

Prof Cassidy said the bruising around Ms Blount's mouth suggested that she was still alive when the gag was put in her mouth.

There was bruising to Ms Blount's neck and a number of neck bones were fractured.

Prof Cassidy said the neck bruises indicated that two types of strangulation were used.

One of the marks was very narrow and consistent with cable ties, which had been found strewn around the bedroom.

Prof Cassidy said the second mark was consistent with an arm lock.

The jury was told that significant force would have been needed to the front of the neck to cause Ms Blount's death, and that force would have needed to be maintained for a sufficient period of time.

Prof Cassidy said Ms Blount's front teeth had also been dislodged, and again she said that "great force would be required" for that to happen.

There was also bruising on Ms Blount's wrist and her left upper arm, which indicated she was grabbed with "some degree of force".

She also noted that an earring had scratched the skin behind Ms Blount's ear and that the back of an earring was found in her hair.

"Probably, there would have been a struggle," she said.

The toxicology report showed Ms Blount had taken cocaine in the hours before her death. She had not been drinking.

There was also evidence of recent sexual activity, but Prof Cassidy could not say if it was consensual.

Cross-examined by counsel Patrick Gageby, Prof Cassidy agreed there was no evidence Ms Blount was tied up or that any weapon had been used.

She agreed that the injuries to Ms Blount's mouth could have been caused by a forceful hand over it.

Earlier yesterday, scenes of crime examiner Detective Garda Janette O'Neill said she attended The Plaza Hotel on February 16, 2014.

Det Gda O'Neill said Ms Blount was lying on the floor in bedroom 346 and she appeared to be in the recovery position, with an arm over her body. She said it appeared her body had been moved.

Gag

The detective said Ms Blount had blood around her face and had a gag in her mouth. The gag appeared to be a white and black striped top.

Det Gda O'Neill said there were a number of items strewn around the floor, including cable ties and a mobile phone charger, and it was her view that a "violent struggle" had taken place.

Garda Robert Whitty and Garda Thomas Murray were the first gardai on the scene.

Gda Whitty said that when he entered the bedroom, Ms Blount was lying on the floor beside the bed.

He said there were unused cable ties around the room, as well as black duct tape, a man's white jacket and a mobile phone charger on the floor.

An imitation firearm was under the bed.

Gda Whitty said he went into the bathroom, and there were blood-stained tissues in the toilet and a blood-stained towel on the side of the bath.

Detective Garda Barry O'Mahony then led the jury through a CCTV montage, showing the movements of Mr Locke and Ms Blount.

She is shown on CCTV cameras arriving at The Plaza Hotel in her Opel Astra the night before she was found.

She checks in at reception and then heads to Room 346 at 9.19pm. Det Gda O'Mahony noted that Ms Blount appeared to be carrying an overnight bag.

Mr Locke is shown on CCTV ordering a drink in the Steering Wheel pub in Clondalkin shortly after 11pm, and leaving the pub just before 11.45pm.

The accused arrives in The Plaza Hotel at 11.55pm, where he collects a keycard at reception and heads up in the lift toward Room 346.

He is wearing black trousers and a white jacket and he puts on a hat as he makes his way to the bedroom.

The CCTV footage has Mr Locke leaving the hotel at 5.38am. He is still wearing the same hat and trousers, but not the white jacket.

"He seems to be covering his face or wiping his face with a tissue," said Det Gda O'Mahony, as footage showed Mr Locke walking along a corridor.

As Mr Locke walks away, CCTV footage shows him crouching down, and it appears he deposits something.

He then runs away in the direction of Belgard Square.

The trial continues before Mr Justice Michael Moriarty and a jury.

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