Limerick man jailed for manslaughter after murder conviction is quashed
A Limerick man whose conviction for murder was quashed following a successful appeal was today sentenced to eleven years with three suspended for manslaughter.
Kevin Coughlan (33), with a last address at Avondale Drive, Greystones, Limerick, had pleaded not guilty to murdering Francis Greene at Steamboat Quay in Limerick between November 28 and 29 2009.
He was found guilty by a jury at the Central Criminal Court and was given the mandatory life sentence by Mr Justice Patrick J McCarthy on December 22 2011.
In June this year the three-judge Court of Appeal found that Coughlan's trial had been unsatisfactory.
President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice Seán Ryan said the appeal arose out of the then Deputy State Pathologist, Dr Khalid Jaber's “crucial” evidence in the case.
The defence submitted that they were presented with conclusions on the cause of death that had not been notified to them in advance.
The case against Coughlan was that he had forced Mr Greene into the river where the unfortunate man met his death by drowning. “That was the case that was made”.
However, Dr Jaber also produced an opinion that Mr Greene had been strangled before he got into the water, the judgement stated.
It was “not satisfactory” that that was given “for the first time in the witness box when the Pathologist was giving evidence in the course of an important murder trial,” Mr Justice Ryan said.
Today the case was brought before Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy for sentence where he said this case had "exceptional circumstances" as the accused was convicted of murder at the Central Criminal Court in December 2011 after a trial that lasted fourteen days but this was later quashed.
"Mr Anthony Sammon SC for Coughlan said in the course of the hearing that the appropriate conviction was manslaughter and accordingly a verdict of manslaughter was substituted by the Court of Appeal," said the judge.
"Then the matter was referred to me for sentencing but difficulty arose in the case because of Dr Jaber's evidence as a reference was made by him to strangulation. As we know Dr Jaber has emigrated and whether or not he would be available to give evidence is another question," continued Mr Justice McCarthy.
"In any event the Court of Appeal did not criticise Dr Jaber and the defence and prosecution were placed in a very difficult situation. Every rational person can see that the accused person is entitled to know of the case against them in clear terms. In this instance having regard to the cause of death was crucial. Ultimately because of the unsatisfactory evidence of Dr Jaber the conviction was quashed," he said.
Mr Justice McCarthy said that responsibility had been accepted by the accused for causing the deceased to be in the River Shannon and to die as a result of that.
Mr Justice McCarthy said the family of the deceased were placed in a situation where he had disappeared and hoped his body would be found.
"This was compounded by the false allegation of a sexual allegation which is now accepted to be entirely untrue," added the judge.
Mr Justice McCarthy then told the court that the pain to the family of Mr Greene was increased and compounded by a lie told by the accused to the "potential whereabouts of the deceased."
The judge then referred to the Victim Impact Statement read to the court by prosecution counsel Mr Patrick McCarthy SC last Monday. He said there was no doubt that the family of the deceased had suffered and it is perfectly understandable that their lives will never be the same again.
"The fact Mr Greene was missing for ten weeks and his mother felt particularly affected and was ashamed at one stage that she felt she couldn't go to mass in her local church, she obviously was in an extreme state of worry and stress in regard to that. It is obvious the deceased was a very fine person and the family say they are haunted by his death and I'm sure that is no exaggeration. The accused went to his home and at knife point forced him down the street," said the judge.
Mr Justice McCarthy told the court that Coughlan had a "bad criminal record" and at the age of 18 in 2000 he was convicted of three robberies and four burglaries. The court heard that in 2002 he was then convicted to prison for three years for robbery.
The judge told the court that the time of when a plea of guilt is entered is of importance and in this case it was not at the time of being charged or before the trial.
"It was what we call five minutes to midnight. The lateness of the plea in this instance is explicable to the nature of the evidence by Dr Jaber. In effect what the accused did was plead guilty to something which was inevitable," said the judge.
Mr Justice McCarthy then told the court that having regard to the nature of the crime, the appropriate sentence lies between ten and twelve years. He then said he would afford credit for the plea of guilty to three years.
"The sentence will be eleven years less three years," said the judge.
The judge then gave Coughlan credit for his period of custody saying: "The sentence will date from June 10 2010 and the last three years will be suspended."
Last week prosecution counsel Mr McCarthy said the deceased was living in the basement of a house and was working as a general operative in the building trade at the time of his death.
"He was a gentle man but he had a drink problem," said counsel.
The court heard from the barrister that Mr Greene was in a relationship with the mother of the accused and on November 28 2009 Coughlan came into the 48 year old's apartment where he led Mr Greene out of the house by knife point and brought him toward the quay.
The court heard that two street drinkers who were present in the apartment at the time left the house shortly afterwards and went to the garda station where they reported what they had seen.
"Subsequently there was evidence collected on CCTV cameras which saw Mr Greene and the intruder going towards the sea. Then nothing was seen of the accused for a few weeks," said Mr McCarthy.
Last Monday Mr McCarthy told the court that the accused said he threw the knife into the river but he didn't go to the assistance of Mr Greene when he jumped in of his own accord and instead walked away.
The court then heard that the first report of a man coming into Francis Greene's apartment and dragging him out was made by two people who were intoxicated at the time. These two people were then ordered by gardai to return to the garda station the next day but they failed to show up.
Mr McCarthy told the court last week that Coughlan said he went to Mr Greene's apartment to warn him to stay away from his mother. "He said he left the apartment accompanied by Francis Greene and talked to him about his mother," said the barrister.
"After Coughlan was arrested and interviewed on nine occasions in all, the matter then came up for trial. Although the accused said what had occurred at the location, there is no independent evidence to support this. There seems to be some suggestion he was thrown into river and the knife was thrown into the river during the course of the incident with the cause of death being asphyxia," said Mr McCarthy to the judge last week,
The court heard that the accused who has been in custody since February 2010 had a total of 28 previous convictions including burglary and robbery. He was also known to gardai in Limerick for being a "violent individual" as well aggressive to members of the gardai.
Last week Mr Anthony Sammon SC for Coughlan told the judge the accused has had many years to revisit in his own mind the activities and he very much regrets what he did.
"He accepts unreservedly that he is responsible for the late Francis Greene losing his life the way he did and he wishes to extend his regrets to the loved ones of Mr Greene who he has caused great pain and suffering to," said Mr Sammon.
Mr Sammon also asked the judge to give the accused credit for accepting his criminal liability at the level of manslaughter.