Gardai put words in my mouth, key witness tells appeals court
Published 29/04/2010 | 05:00
A key witness in the State's case against Martin Conmey for the killing of a teenager almost 40 years ago claims he was assaulted and interrogated by investigating gardai who "put words" in his mouth.
A sworn statement taken from 62-year-old Co Meath man Sean Reilly, concerning what he said he saw on the evening Una Lynskey vanished, was considered "a keystone" for the 1971 conviction of Conmey for manslaughter.
Yesterday, Mr Reilly told the Court of Criminal Appeal he was "punched" and "prodded" by several gardai, and was made "to feel" as though he was a suspect in the teenager's disappearance.
He was testifying before the three-judge appeal court on the second day of the hearing of an application taken by Conmey as part of his attempt to have his manslaughter conviction declared a miscarriage of justice. The now 59-year-old, of Porterstown Lane, Rataoth, Co Meath, claims "newly discovered facts" will prove he was not responsible for the death of Ms Lynskey.
Her body was discovered on December 10, 1971, in a ditch in a remote part of the Dublin Mountains, two months after she vanished while returning home after work. A post- mortem failed to establish how the young civil servant died.
Lawyers for Conmey are claiming "newly discovered" facts in the case include the existence of "earlier" contradictory statements from key witnesses and a previously unknown allegation of violence and "oppression" by investigating gardai against one of these, Mr Reilly.
In 1972, Conmey and another man, Dick Donnelly, were convicted of the 19-year-old's manslaughter. A year later, both men appealed and Mr Donnelly's conviction was overturned, but Conmey served three years in prison for the offence.
A third man, Martin Kerrigan, was also suspected of having been involved in the crime, but he was abducted and killed a short time after Ms Lynskey's body was discovered.
Mr Reilly told Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman presiding, sitting with Mr Justice Declan Budd and Mr Justice Eamon De Valera, that in late October 1971 he gave two statements to investigating gardai in connection with the case.
In the first statement, taken on October 20, 1971, Mr Reilly, who was 23 at the time, told gardai that a car "would have passed" while he was outside his family home on the evening the teenager disappeared on Porterstown Lane.
He said he was sitting in the car of Martin Madden, another "crucial witness" in the original case. The car was "going down toward" the Dublin to Navan Road.
Mr Reilly told the court it "was dark" when he heard it go by and so it would have been "impossible" to make out who was driving it. He said Mr Madden's car, in which he was sitting, was parked "way in off the road" and that its rear was facing the lane.
The court heard that four days later on October 24, a second statement was taken from Mr Reilly in which he said Mr Madden's car "had a good view" of Porterstown Lane, that he "was sure" Mr Donnelly was driving it and "almost sure" Mr Kerrigan was in it too.
Yesterday, Mr Reilly said he made this statement "under interrogation" and that gardai "put words" in his "mouth".
Mr Reilly said on the day that statement was taken, gardai asked that he travel with them to Porterstown Lane. Instead he said he was brought to Trim garda station where he was questioned for "seven hours". When he was finally allowed to leave, he said he was "glad to get out" and "had had enough of it".
He alleges he was punched several times in the shoulder by gardai who swore at him and told him "to speak up and tell the truth".
He said one garda was "frothing at the mouth with temper".
He said they wanted "information about Dick Donnelly's car", and that he told them the car that passed "could" have been his but that he was not in a position to "swear this".
Mr Reilly said he "had no recollection" of having given sworn evidence in relation to the controversial second statement at Trim District Court in advance of Conmey's trial.
He told Michael O'Higgins, for Conmey, that he had "no reason" to lie about what had happened.
The hearing was expected to last "three, possibly four days", but Judge Hardiman indicated at the end of yesterday's proceedings that the case "may take a further four days".