A dental nurse allegedly murdered by her estranged partner may instead have bled to death in her bath without any crime, the High Court has heard.
Lawyers for Gary O’Dowd revealed a second pathologist’s conclusions conflict with post-mortem findings that Laura Marshall died by drowning at her flat in Lurgan.
Details of the alternative theory emerged as 36-year-old O’Dowd was granted bail on condition his parents lodge a £10,000 cash surety.
He is accused of murdering Miss Marshall, 31, sometime between March 30 and April 3.
Prosecutors said her naked body was discovered in a blood-spattered bathroom at the Victoria Street apartment complex.
A sink had been ripped from the wall and door handles were found lying on the floor.
It was claimed that Miss Marshall had suffered a serious assault, with injuries including bruising to her arms, legs and forehead, along with a deep gash to her wrist area.
A post-mortem examination also disclosed potential signs of forced or rough sex, which may or may not have been consensual, within 48 hours of her death, the court heard.
Kate McKay, prosecuting, claimed other bruising and scrapes on the body were consistent with the victim having been dragged.
Ultimately, however, she said death was a result of drowning.
O’Dowd, from Knocknagore Road in Gilford, Co Down, had been in a three-year relationship with Miss Marshall.
But due to allegations of previous domestic violence he was prohibited from staying at her flat.
Mrs McKay described the victim as a vulnerable woman with issues of low self-esteem.
The court heard she had exchanged more than 40 text messages and calls with O’Dowd on March 31.
In them she expressed her love for him and relayed an intention to drop charges that he previously threatened to kill her.
According to the prosecution the messages became increasingly desperate for O’Dowd to visit and secure a reconciliation.
During the course of 25 interviews, however, he denied going to the flats, maintaining he was at his parents’ house.
“He said he was playing hard to get with her, he didn’t want her to think he would come running just because she clicked her fingers,” Mrs McKay said.
But she argued that O’Dowd was the last person known to have spoken to Miss Marshall.
It was also disclosed that a neighbour claims to have heard a “blazing row” between the defendant and the deceased early on April 1.
With no CCTV footage of O’Dowd being at the apartment block in the period around her death, the prosecutor claimed he would have known how to get in and out unnoticed from having lived there for a number of years.
Referring to the issue of possible forced sex, she said O’Dowd could not explain possible bruising detected on his genitalia other than by attributing it to masturbation.
Mrs McKay described the prosecution case as circumstantial.
She further revealed that four detectives have been assigned to trawl through 96,000 hours of CCTV footage from the Lurgan area in an attempt to secure a sighting of the accused.
Defence counsel Gavyn Cairns claimed there was a “dearth of evidence” against his client.
He argued there was no motive for O’Dowd to murder Miss Marshall as she had sent texts confirming her plans to exonerate him over the previous allegations.
The barrister also disputed suggestions that the accused would have been able to get into the apartment by scaling a 12ft-high gate at night.
O’Dowd weighs up to 17 stone and had drunk up to two bottles of Buckfast tonic wine, the court heard.
Challenging the findings reached on cause of death, Mr Cairns told the court another retired pathologist has concluded that Miss Marshall did not drown.
“We say the deceased was found in a bath with the hot tap running,” he submitted.
“She has a very serious, 9cm wound to her forearm. Looking at that there’s every prospect that there was no crime here at all.
“This is a classic (case) in a hot bath, with a very pronounced wound to the wrist, that there’s a very strong prospect of exsanguination (bleeding to death).”
Granting bail, Lord Justice Gillen acknowledged the conflicting arguments and the £10,000 cash surety being offered by O’Dowd’s mother and father.
Ordering the accused to live under curfew at an address in Banbridge, the judge banned him from entering Lurgan or contacting any witnesses.
He also imposed a prohibition on taking alcohol, using social media or having a mobile phone.