Convicted murderer who claimed he accidentally shot man he blamed for brother's suicide loses appeal
A convicted murder who claimed he accidentally shot the man he blamed for his brother's suicide has lost an appeal against conviction.
Michael Collins (34), with an address at Upper Kilmona, Grenagh, Co Cork had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Packie Hogan (42) at Glen Road, Ballinaraha, Blarney, Co Cork on February 10, 2011.
Collins also denied possession of a rifle and possession of ammunition with intent to endanger life on the same occasion.
A Central Criminal Court jury sitting in Cork found Collins guilty on all counts and he was given the mandatory life sentence by Mr Justice Paul Carney on November 29, 2012.
Opening an appeal against conviction in April, Collins' barrister, Michael Bowman SC, said his client had maintained at all times that he didn't intend to kill the deceased but to scare him.
Mr Bowman said Collins had a history of difficulty with the deceased man and blamed him for allegedly causing his brother's suicide over a drugs debt.
It would appear that on a number of occasions threats had been made to Collins and his family, Mr Bowman claimed, and the deceased was a man “capable of following through” on those threats according to gardaí.
Collins' father's dogs were poisoned and vehicles had been burned out, Mr Bowman said. He had gone to the gardaí four days prior to the incident and “effectively communicated out of desperation the position he found himself in”.
He was “looking for help”, Mr Bowman said, and his parting remark to the gardaí appeared to be that he'll 'look after it' himself, counsel said.
Ballistics confirmed that the firearm was defective. It was accepted that there was a “hair trigger” on the firearm and it was capable of accidental discharge. It had no safety mechanism attached.
It was a single action 0.22 inch calibre German made Rhoner rifle mainly intended for hunting and controlling vermin.
The defence's case was that Collins had merely been attempting to frighten Mr Hogan and in respect of the fatal shot, had discharged of its own accord.
Dismissing his appeal against conviction today/yesterday(THURSDAY), Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan said the Court of Appeal was satisfied that any unfairness in the trial judge's original instruction was adequately rectified by subsequent instruction.
Mr Justice Sheehan said the defence made no mention of gross negligence manslaughter during the trial and a direction on it “would have been superfluous”.
In the court of Appeal's view there was nothing unusual about the case which would have imposed a duty on the judge to direct the jury on an alternative defence.
Mr Justice Sheehan, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Edwards, said the judge's instructions to the jury adequately dealt with the issue of manslaughter insofar as it related to the defence that was run in the case.
Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed.
At trial, Collins' defence was that this was a “pure accident” - that a young man whose character was beyond blemish, Mr Bowman said, took this “bizarre” and “remarkable step” to generate fear in the deceased but the firearm discharged before he could “fulfill that end”.
Mr Bowman said the trial judge did not engage with the facts “as presented and agreed”.
Dismissing his appeal against conviction today, Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan said Collins had discharged a number of his brother's drug debts and had told the deceased to stop supplying him with drugs.
Following this, a number of Collins' vehicles were burned out and he felt obliged to move home. He also believed the suicide of another brother was attributable to the deceased, who had previous convictions for violent crime.
The gardaí had stated in evidence that the deceased posed a credible threat to the life of a person known to Collins, the judgment stated.
Collins had made various complaints to gardaí and, four days before the shooting, he visited a garda station and expressed dissatisfaction with the way his complaints were being investigated. As he was leaving the garda station, he said he would take care of matters himself.
Four days later, he armed himself with a firearm and persuaded his brother to drive him towards the deceased's premises.
The deceased and another man happened to be driving along the road when they were overtaken by Collins and his brother.
He directed his brother to park their vehicle on the roadway so as to block the deceased's passage.
Collins left the vehicle wearing a balaclava and got into a nearby ditch with the firearm from where a shot was discharged.
Collins then left the ditch wearing the balaclava and walked toward's the deceased's vehicle which was stopped.
The gun was pointed towards the driver side window and when Collins was six feet away, another shot was discharged which entered the chest of the deceased resulting in his death a short time later.