THE motive for killing a gay student in Clare two years ago was the issue of homosexuality, according to a Central Criminal Court prosecutor.
Bernard Condon SC was giving his closing speech today in the trial of a farmer charged with murdering the 21-year-old.
Joe Heffernan (33) of Cappagh Beg, Barefield, Ennis has pleaded not guilty to murdering Eoin Ryan at that address on June 7, 2011.
The Newhall law student’s body was found in a barrel on his farm that morning, after Mr Heffernan reported killing the devil.
Mr Condon told the jury that it was not necessary to establish a motive for murder.
“However I suggest there is a motive, a very glaring issue which stands out, the issue of homosexuality and his reaction to that,” he said.
He pointed to Mr Heffernan’s ‘abhorrence’ that he might be homosexual or have engaged in a homosexual act.
Mr Condon reminded the jury that one of the first things the accused told gardai was that he was not gay and the man had come onto him.
“He made a pass at me and I’m no queer. He’s the devil,” he had said.
“He thought I was. He stripped down,” he continued. “I’m not going to prison.”
Mr Condon said that the devil then took on a convenient prominence.
He said the accused knew of Mr Ryan’s sexual orientation from the time he met him hours earlier. He told gardai that a man came into the pub and ‘was talking like a gay man would talk’.
He noted that a barman overheard one of them mention a condom to the other and that they later stopped at a shop, where Mr Ryan appeared to have bought condoms.
Mr Condon read out some of what Mr Heffernan told a doctor in the Central Mental Hospital.
“I think he was a gay. He made a pass at me and I kind of went along with it,” he said, adding that he was embarrassed.
“I suggest that’s what this case is about, not just embarrassment, abhorrence,” said Mr Condon.
Patrick Gageby SC, defending, suggested that either a mental disorder or intoxication had caused his client to see the devil, and argued for a manslaughter verdict.
“Eoin Ryan was assaulted with astonishing and unusual severity,” he said. “It is worth considering the extraordinary case of overkill.”
He reminded the jury that Mr Heffernan said the devil was in Mr Ryan’s eyes and noted that his eyes were badly damaged.
“This killing was not rational,” he said.
He asked if his client, who had a limited IQ, could have sat down and said: ‘Oh F, I killed a man. I’d better make up a story’.
“How can anyone make that up?” he asked of his client’s story about the devil coming for him.
He said that if his client feared the devil reaching out to take his mortal soul, that would be an explanation.
He reminded the jury that a psychiatrist examined him after his arrest and said he was suffering from a psychotic disorder, possibly schizophrenia.
A forensic psychiatrist interviewed him three times over the past two years and said that it was not certain that he suffered from schizophrenia. She said he was now off all medication and had no symptoms, but that it may be too early to tell.
“If in six months’ time, you having passed a verdict and his symptoms did reappear, that would be a real difficulty,” said Mr Gageby.
“We’re saying there is a mental disorder; at the time of the killing he was psychotic, and that diminished his responsibility,” he said, calling for a manslaughter verdict.
He said that if the jury didn’t agree, it still had to look at the intoxication issue.
“If it seems a reasonable possibility that the combination of drink and drugs caused the devil to appear, and that Mr Heffernan acted according to what he saw, you’re entitled to acquit on murder and convict on manslaughter,” he said.
“It’s not actually unlawful to kill the devil,” he added, noting how that sounded.
Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy will charge the jury of seven women and five men on Monday.