A BROTHER of murdered dissident republican Alan Ryan and another man have been found not guilty of the possession of an assault rifle and a handgun by direction of the Special Criminal Court.
The non-jury court this morning ruled that there was an insufficient evidential basis from which a jury properly directed could find Vincent Ryan (22) and his co-accused Darragh Evans (23) were guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Having been in custody since September 2012, both Mr Ryan and Mr Evans walked out the front door of the Criminal Courts of Justice complex on Parkgate Street in Dublin.
Both men had pleaded not guilty to the possession of an AKM assault rifle and Webley-make revolver MkV1 at Clonshaugh Walk, Coolock, Dublin 17 on September 15th, 2011.
The court heard that the garda investigation in to the offence began after an incident involving the discharging of a firearm on Marsfield Avenue in Clongriffin on September 15th, 2011.
Gardai who searched a Saab 95 car recovered a short distance away from Marsfield Avenue found an AKM assault rifle, an AK-47 style ammunition magazine, a Webley revolver and a Nike bag containing a foil lid from a Pringles crisp container.
The Special Criminal Court heard evidence from forensic scientist Dr Fiona Thornton that a DNA profile matching that of Darragh Evans was found on the AKM assault rifle and on the Pringles lid, while a DNA profile matching that of Vincent Ryan was found on the AK-47 style magazine.
However, under cross-examination Dr Thornton also agreed that the incomplete, low-level DNA profiles taken from the AKM assault rifle and the ammunition magazine could have been deposited there by secondary or tertiary transfer as equally as direct contact.
In an application earlier this week, counsel for Mr Ryan, Mr Hugh Hartnett SC, said that the court should direct itself to find the accused men not guilty. Counsel submitted the evidence “must be consistent with guilt and inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis of innocence”.
He said the prosecution had adduced evidence that an incomplete low-level DNA profile matching that of Vincent Ryan was found on the AK-47 style magazine, but there was no mention of the magazine in the charge on the indictment.
Counsel said the charge related to a specific time and place, but the evidence from the prosecution’s own witness, forensic scientist Dr Fiona Thornton, was that she could not as a matter of science say when the DNA was deposited.
Mr Hartnett said Dr Thornton gave evidence that the DNA could have been deposited there by secondary or tertiary transfer as equally as direct contact.
Senior Counsel for Mr Evans Mr Giollaiosa O Lideadha, said he would adopt the submissions made by Mr Hartnett.
Ms Tara Burns SC, for the State, said the prosecution case was that the accused were in constructive possession of the items found in the boot of the Saab car and the case was of sufficient strength to go before the court acting as a jury.
She submitted the issues raised by the defence were weight and factual issues, not legal issues of sufficient gravity to withdraw the case from the jury.
Returning the ruling, presiding judge Mr Justice Paul Butler said the court found that the time and place of the alleged possession were vital to the charges and to the element of possession for an unlawful purpose in particular, as the evidence for this arose out of an allegation that the assault rifle and handgun were discharged on the date in question.
He said that “constructive possession” in this case would only arise where an accused was held to have been in physical possession of one firearm but not the other, while the court found that possession of the magazine was not found to be part of any specific charge.
Mr Justice Butler said the DNA evidence allowed for a number of different reasonable findings as to how it got on the items, including that they were handled by the accused or got there by secondary, tertiary or even fourth-hand transfer.
He said the court found there were no “strands of evidence” in either case which either individually or collectively could achieve the strength of evidence necessary for a conviction
Mr Justice Butler said the court would therefore accede to both applications for directions.
He added that the failure to achieve a conviction in respect of the proceedings was not due to any failure on the part of investigating gardai, who conducted a "most thorough and professional investigation, not least the linking of the firearms in question to the shooting incident".
There was muted applause from the public gallery after the court had risen.