Saturday 24 September 2016

Jury fails to reach verdict on manslaughter charge

Declan Brennan

Published 08/12/2015 | 17:41

Paul Brannigan (24)
Paul Brannigan (24)

A jury has failed to reach a verdict on a manslaughter charge in a case where the victim was alleged to have died as a result of an extremely rare type of cardiac arrest.

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Paul Brannigan (24) of Ratoath Drive, Finglas, Dublin had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to the manslaughter of Jason Saunders at Fassaugh Avenue, Cabra West on March 18, 2014.

After a six day trial and almost five hours of deliberation the jury said it was unable to reach any verdict on this charge.

It found Brannigan guilty of two counts of assaulting the victim by head-butting him and by striking him with a golf club. The jury also convicted him of the offence of producing an article capable of inflicting serious injury during a fight. He had denied all offences.

Judge Patrick McCartan remanded Brannigan in custody for sentence on December 15th.

During the trial Chief State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy told the jury that Mr Saunders died from commotio cordis, a lethal disruption of heart rhythm occurring as a result of a blow to the chest directly over the heart at a critical time.

The blow has to occur within a 30 millisecond window during the cycle of a heart beat, the trial heard.

The unusual cause of death is more prevalent in America, especially among ice hockey players and baseball hitters who have collapsed dead after being hit by the hard ball or puck.

The prosecution case was that the accused struck Mr Saunders with the golf club and that this was the blow that caused the fatal cardiac arrest.

A witness for the defence, retired assistant State pathologist Dr Declan Gilsenan, disputed Prof Cassidy's findings.

He said he believed the man died as a combination of taking a cocktail of illegal drugs and a spike in testosterone caused by the argument. This combination resulted in the victim going into cardiac arrest, Dr Gilsenan testified.

Brannigan admitted head-butting the victim during an early morning row that took place after the victim had been drinking and taking cocaine and ecstasy tablets all night.

He told gardaí that he head-butted the deceased because Mr Saunders was holding a bottle of vodka over his head and he believed he was going to throw it at him.

Brannigan also admitted swinging the golf club at the man but said he never connected with him as he was swinging it from a distance.

He said he initially denied telling gardaí that he had asked a shop-keeper about CCTV footage because he had panicked.

He said: “I did do something wrong. I head-butted a lad and he was taken off in an ambulance.”

He later told gardaí: “I didn’t mean to kill him. My deepest thoughts go out to the family.”

One witness testified that he saw the accused head-butt Mr Saunders before he violently swung a golf club at him a number of times. He said the victim walked away and Brannigan returned to his flat. The victim collapsed on the road shortly after.

The jury had deliberated for just under five hours and had been directed that it could return a majority verdict before the foreman told Judge McCartan that it could not agree a verdict on the manslaughter offence.

Judge McCartan thanked the jury for its diligent service in what he said was a difficult and trying case.

There was no discernible reaction from the accused, his supporters or the family of the deceased man as the verdicts were delivered. Brannigan embraced family and friends who were present in court before he was led off to prison.

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