Wednesday 18 October 2017

Man accused of killing his partner had 'significant background of domestic violence and abuse'

Brigid Maguire
Brigid Maguire

Andrew Phelan

THE killing of a mother-of-two who was strangled to death by her partner following a confrontation at her home is one of the “clearest cases of murder” a jury might face, the prosecution has claimed.

Danny Keena (55) was “thin-skinned, jealous and bitter” and had already choked Brigid Maguire before when he “strangled the life out of her,” barrister Remy Farrell SC said.

Mr Keena’s defence barrister contended, however, that it was a “classic case of provocation” where the accused had been told he was a bad father, which was “deeply hurtful” and caused him to go “out of his mind.”

Both sides delivered their closing speeches at the Central Criminal Court this afternoon.

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy then began his charge to the jurors, which is due to conclude tomorrow before they are asked to retire to consider a verdict.

Mr Keena (55), a farmer from Empor, Ballynacargy, Co Westmeath denies the murder of Ms Maguire (43) at Main Street, Ballynacargy on November 14, 2015.

Their daughter Jade found her mother strangled on the floor that night.The prosecution has not accepted Mr Keena's plea of guilty to manslaughter.

In his closing speech, Mr Farrell said for the defence of provocation, the accused must have used no more force than was reasonable. The actual provocation, he said was a comment apparently made by Brigid Maguire “to the effect that Danny Keena was a bad father.”

He said the jury was being asked to consider that “strangling the life out of Brigid Maguire” was a reasonable response having regard to the effect of that comment.

The post mortem evidence was not just about strangulation, there was “substantial damage” done to the neck muscles and a small bone in the neck was broken, he said.

“One gets the impression of a substantial, significant physical assault,” he said.

Mr Farrell said it was clear from the accused’s account, he went to the house with the purpose of remonstrating with Ms Maguire “that she really wasn’t a very good mother.”

He said provocation was supposed to be a concession to human frailty and this case was a “million miles” away from that.

“This is a thin-skinned man, a man who is easily provoked, this is somebody who is quite happy to resort to his fists instead of words.”

He said the jury had evidence the accused had engaged in a pattern of bullying and domestic violence and abuse. They had this evidence from his children, Jade and Daniel and Mr Farrell said they were “straightforward witnesses.”

The jury also had the evidence of Mr Keena’s niece Mary Wallace Jnr and his sister Mary Wallace Snr.

Mr Farrell said the accused accepted he did engage in violence and abuse though “I don’t think he would put it in those terms.” He suggested Mr Keena might think it was “chastisement.”

He said Mr Keena seemed to think he was entitled to use the back of his hand to slap Ms Maguire and knock a phone out of her hand.

“This is a relationship where there is a very significant background of domestic violence and domestic abuse,” he said.

One of the most striking aspects of the case was that Mr Keena was a person who “on a previous occasion strangled Brigid Maguire.

”Mr Keena had told gardai he had an argument with Ms Maguire over a washing machine, and as a result of that he choked her.

“This is a man who has done exactly the same thing on a previous occasion not because somebody said something that wounded him so terribly… this was an argument over a washing machine,” Mr Farrell said.

The accused had described “losing it” in garda interview, which Mr Farrell said he presumed meant “losing his temper” which was not provocation.

After he had the benefit of legal advice, he said the accused gave “what looks like a textbook description of provocation”, saying “I lost complete control, I didn’t know what I was doing.”

He said the legal sense of provocation involved a sudden loss of control, over a short period of time.

“It’s death by strangulation, it’s a very up close and personal way to kill somebody,” Mr Farrell said.

Mr Keena had described the choking as maybe 60 seconds, and Mr Farrell asked the jury to sit for 60 seconds and consider “how long 60 seconds is” if they had “their hands around somebody’s throat, choking the life out of them.”

“60 seconds is a long time, ladies and gentlemen,” he said.

“This is a case where Brigid Maguire was unfortunately not given a quick death. Mr Keena was literally face to face with the consequences his actions as he was committing them.”

“This is one of the clearest cases of murder you might hope for,” he said.

The accused had actively threatened to kill his partner on previous occasions, Mr Farrell said.

“The essence of the defence being advanced is that it’s not really his fault because it’s Brigid Maguire who did something that provoked him, so that he should not be responsible for his actions,” Mr Farrell said.

“The reason Danny Keena did what he did is because he was angry, he was jealous, he was bitter, he was thin skinned.

”Colm Smyth SC said the defence was not going into evidence. The central plank of the defence, he said, was provocation.

He told the jury it was not a court of morals but of law and asked them not to get carried away with passionate suggestions that it was a case where the accused cold-bloodedly killed his partner.

He said the jury must look dispassionately at the case and not become contaminated by any dislike they might have at the accused’s behaviour as a partner or abhorrence at what they had heard.

“This case is a great tragedy by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.

Mr Keena was never prosecuted for any offence, never gave trouble to the community in any shape or form, he was a “good citizen” and had led a “perfectly good life.

”No barring orders or safety orders had ever been obtained and there was “no corroborative evidence on the medical side of any injury inflicted by Danny Keena on Brigid Maguire.

”He said the legal test of provocation was not whether it was likely or probable to trigger the reaction but if it was “reasonably possible,” he said.

Mr Smyth asked the jury to consider the prevailing circumstances.

A witness, Michelle Wallace, had given evidence of encountering the accused in the village earlier on the night and his demeanour was “normal” and “alright.”

The jury had heard it was declared by Ms Maguire that the accused was “no good of a father” and he was extremely upset by that.

He said the accused had told gardai “I was out of my mind, my head was gone.”

He said the jury knew from the Deputy State Pathologist Dr Linda Mulligan that death by choking could follow very quickly - in a matter of seconds.

He said the pressure applied by the accused while he was “utterly out of control” was such that it broke the hyoid bone in Ms Maguire’s neck.

“Everything has been said about him to paint him as the worst partner in Christendom, but one thing is certain, he never accused Brigid Maguire of being a bad mother,” he said.

Mr Smyth said the first thing the accused had said to the gardai was “She said I was a bad father to Daniel.”

“For any man to be told he is a bad father is probably one of the most hurtful things you could say to a man,” Mr Smyth said.

He said Ms Maguire had also been texting “on intimate matters with another individual."

The circumstances, combined with the “deeply hurtful comment” triggered in him the reaction that led tragically to Ms Maguire’s death, Mr Smyth said.

“To say of Danny Keena in the past he was an abuser and because of that he is not entitled to the defence of provocation is to say the least utter nonsense,” he said.

“If there was ever a case where provocation should apply, I say to you it’s this case.”

Mr Smyth said the accused tried to revive Ms Maguire and was “overcome with grief” at what he had done.

“Your heart would go out to the children” in the case, he said, but asked the jury not to be moved by pity for the children that could cloud their common sense and judgement.

It was a “classic case of provocation,” he said.

It was a case involving a man from a rural background, from limited enough circumstances, a man “you might describe as eating his dinner in the middle of the day” and someone who described his wife or partner as “my woman.”

This did not mean he considered her to be his property, he said.

He told the jury they must look “through the eyes” of Mr Keena, “warts and all.”

“This is a case where you must return a verdict of not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter,” he said.

Earlier, Garda Vincent Reynolds said analysis of Ms Maguire’s phone messages showed “intimate communication” with one male.

He said the last activity was a text sent by her at 8.04pm on the night she died.

Judge Patrick McCarthy began his charge to the jury and is due to conclude this tomorrow.

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