Tuesday 23 May 2017

GAA star's killer aimed to murder ex-girlfriend

Bus driver sat in his van for hours thinking about shooting himself

TRAGEDY: Shane Rogers, above, who killed GAA footballer James Hughes and injured
nurse Patricia Byrne, during the shooting; Rogers committed suicide while in custody
TRAGEDY: Shane Rogers, above, who killed GAA footballer James Hughes and injured nurse Patricia Byrne, during the shooting; Rogers committed suicide while in custody
LOCAL HERO: Team-mates from Crossmaglen Rangers carry the remains of James Hughes to St Patrick's Church, Crossmaglen, Co Armagh. Photo: Mark Condren
Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

Shane Rogers, the killer of GAA football player, James Hughes, contemplated shooting himself before handing himself over to gardai and admitting to murder.

Gardai also believe he had intended in a moment of what they say was "pure madness" to kill Patricia Byrne, the 21-year-old nurse he had had a relationship with, and with whom he was obsessed.

Rogers had been stalking and obsessing about his former girlfriend for weeks before he killed South Armagh football star Mr Hughes, friends and acquaintances of Rogers have told gardai.

Rogers, 32, had refused to accept that Patricia Byrne no longer wished to have anything to do with him, his friends told gardai. In the three weeks before the killing, Rogers, a bus- and van-driver, had spent a large amount of time tracking Ms Byrne's movements and sitting in his van near places where he believed she would be. His friends told gardai that he was constantly asking mutual acquaintances about her whereabouts and who she was seeing. They said he did not accept that the relationship he had with Ms Byrne was over and she wanted nothing to do with him.

The obsession came to a head on the night of December 11 when he stalked Ms Byrne to Ridley's nightclub in Dundalk where he saw her chatting to Mr Hughes, 35, a three-times winner of All-Ireland club championships. Rogers drove back to his home in Inniskeen, Co Monaghan, collected his legally held shotgun and drove to the Lis an Dara estate in Dundalk where Ms Byrne, a nurse, shared a house with a friend.

When the taxi carrying Mr Hughes and Ms Byrne arrived at around 4am, Rogers approached it with the loaded shotgun. Neighbours said they heard Mr Hughes plead with Rogers not to shoot, and the taxi driver, Anthony Callan, 48, was attempting to drive away when Rogers opened fire. Pellets struck all three, who were sitting in the passenger bench seat in the front of the Fiat mini-van taxi. The taxi hit a wall and stopped, and Rogers approached it again, levelled his gun at Mr Hughes' head and fired a second, and fatal, blast.

Patricia Byrne and Anthony Callan were treated for pellet injuries to the head and upper body. Mr Callan was released after treatment the following day but Ms Byrne had to receive further treatment in Dublin for her more serious facial and upper body injuries.

Friends told gardai they were unsure whether Rogers intended initially to kill just Mr Hughes, or both him and Ms Byrne.

After committing the murder, Rogers drove back to Inniskeen and rang a friend and then went to Carrickmacross garda station where he surrendered to the station sergeant. In the intervening two hours Rogers had sat in his van with his shotgun apparently contemplating shooting himself.

As, from the outset, Rogers admitted the killing and expressed his remorse, he was a clear suicide risk. In a statement of admission in Carrickmacross he said: "I apologise to him and his family and friends and Trish Byrne. I'm sorry for what I did. I cannot live with myself for doing this."

His death in Cloverhill Prison last Tuesday, however, brought little relief to James Hughes' family. Mr Hughes' uncle, Niall Hughes, said Rogers' suicide "wouldn't mend the broken hearts" of his family.

"He was such a popular guy; everyone liked him," he said of his nephew in an interview with a local newspaper last week. "It is such a terrible waste of a life. This won't bring him back," he said.

The family was just emerging from bereavement after the death of James' mother, Joan, from sudden adult death syndrome eight months previously. "She was just 55-years-old when she died. The family was just beginning to show signs that they were beginning to come to terms with it when this happened," Niall Hughes said.

James Hughes, who has three children aged up to 14 years from a previous relationship, was captain of the Crossmaglen Rangers GAA club in south Armagh and won three All-Ireland club medals with them.

His family is from Crossmaglen but he had been living in nearby Keady. On the Saturday evening before he went to the nightclub, he had attended a raffle at his local Clarnagh Maid pub to raise funds for a sudden adult death syndrome awareness campaign.

Last Tuesday, Rogers appeared at a remand hearing in the District Court in Cloverhill Prison and was then returned to a cell. Within minutes of entering the holding cell he removed the draw string from his track-suit trousers and hanged himself.

Gardai had made it clear at his first remand hearing at Dundalk District Court that they believed he was a suicide risk, and the court directed he receive psychiatric attention and be kept under observation.

Prison sources said it was a deep shock for staff who had kept Rogers under the stipulated watch, fully aware he was suicidal. They said Rogers was given lunch in the cell at 12.30pm and did not appear stressed in any way.

Officers checked on him at 12.45pm, as laid down in the prison guidelines, and again he appeared fine.

But in the next check on the holding cell at 1pm, he was found to be hanging from a light fitting.

He was cut down but attempts to revive him failed. He was taken to Tallaght Hospital and was pronounced dead just before 2pm.

His parents, Sean and Margaret, issued a statement saying: "We are totally devastated and in total shock over this tragic death. We would like to make it known that Shane had been broken-hearted over the death of Mr Hughes and the injuries to Patricia Byrne and Mr Anthony Callan."

Mr and Mrs Rogers added that they were also broken-hearted over the death of Mr Hughes. The statement was issued through the family solicitor Martin Crilly, who knew Rogers for 15 years and described him as "the backbone of the family".

"I knew him personally and I had the highest regard for him. He looked after the younger members of the family and he was loyal to his family," Mr Crilly said.

Mr and Mrs Rogers have also written to Justice Minister Alan Shatter requesting an independent inquiry into their son's death.

"Our request for an inquiry is not intended to deflect from the pain and suffering being endured by the Hughes family," the couple said, adding that they felt an inquiry was necessary "not only in the interests of Shane but in the interest of other prisoners who are vulnerable."

Last week gardai close to the case said they were satisfied the murder and suicide were acts of pure obsession and pure remorse. They agreed Rogers was not someone they would have suspected of having serious and violent attitudes and he had not come to their attention for criminal matters.

One said: "You never know who or when or where. But it often comes at this time of year; people becoming unbalanced. I suppose he just went over the edge but it's a terrible time for all the families, especially at this time of year."

Rogers will be buried following a funeral Mass at Mother of Mercy Church, Inniskeen in Co Monaghan on St Stephen's Day.

Mr Hughes was buried the previous week after Mass in Crossmaglen Church where the parish priest, Fr Joseph McKeever, said to the congregation that "none of us will dishonour that precious memory with thoughts or words or recrimination or revenge".

Sunday Independent

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