Alleged confession of man who murdered his best friend while he slept should not have been admitted at trial, CCA hears
An alleged confession by a Tipperary man who was found guilty of murdering his “best friend” while he slept should not have been admitted in to evidence at his trial, the Court of Criminal Appeal has heard.
In February 2009 John Paul Buck (34), last of Heywood Close, Clonmel was jailed for life by Mr Justice George Birmingham having been found guilty by a Central Criminal Court jury of fatally stabbing 30-year-old Fergus Roche at a vacant house in their estate on October 1, 2005.
He then set fire to the house and was also convicted of arson, for which a concurrent five-year sentence was imposed, after a two-week trial in the Central Criminal Court.
During the trial, the court heard that the father-of-one Fergus Roche had a single stab wound to the chest when firemen pulled him from a blaze in an unoccupied house. A postmortem examination found that he died of the injury before the fire started and had no defensive wounds, indicating that he was stabbed while asleep.
Moving the appeal, Mr Michael Delaney SC said there were four main grounds on the appeal, including the admission in to evidence of an alleged confession by Buck to Detective Garda Larry Bergin in a patrol car in August 2006.
Counsel submitted that the importance of this evidence to the prosecution “could not be overstated”.
The court heard that Buck had denied all involvement, but on the final day of evidence at the trial, Det Gda Bergin said that Buck had confessed to him in August 2006.
He said Buck told him he had stabbed Mr Roche in the chest once while he was sleeping because he “grassed him up” but went on to describe him as his “best friend”.
At Buck’s request, the detective had met him alone in his patrol car and switched off his phone. When Det Gda Bergin tried to caution him, Buck told him the admission was worthless because it was not on tape.
Mr Delaney said it had been accepted that Det Gd Bergin attempted to caution Buck, but submitted that this should have happened earlier in the conversation. He said that this amounted to encouragement to expand on what the accused was saying without any attempt to caution him.
Counsel argued that the attempt to caution Buck came too late, particularly having regard to Det Gda Bergin’s knowledge of the case and the role of Buck as a suspect.
He said the appeal was also based on the admission in to evidence of the fruits of a search of Buck’s home and the refusal of the trial judge to discharge the jury following media coverage on the morning of the second day of the jury’s deliberations.
Mr Delaney told the appeal court that an attempted escape from Limerick Prison by the applicant’s brother Anthony Buck -who is also a convicted murderer- had been reported on RTE’s Morning Ireland radio programme and in at least two national newspapers.
He submitted that “no one hearing that coverage and being involved in the trial” could have helped but ask the question if the accused man was connected to the murder committed by Anthony Buck, as there was a link in the “unusual surname” of the two men and the involvement of the same south Tipperary town.
Presiding judge Mr Justice Liam McKechnie said the court would not finish hearing the case today but would arrange to continue the hearing within the next two to three weeks.
Buck had seven previous convictions, including for burning down a community centre, causing £100,000, and burning a number of cars around Clonmel. He was jailed previously for attacking and robbing a baker on his way to work. He also has a burglary conviction.