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Aaron Brady: The low-level criminal who grew to wear murder of Adrian Donohoe like a badge of honour

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Aaron Brady

Aaron Brady

Aaron Brady

Life was good for Aaron Brady in early 2013.

The young man from Crossmaglen was in a steady relationship with Jessica King, an attractive girl from Cullaville, and was renting his own property in Armagh. Every weekend after partying with his friends in Ridleys nightclub in Dundalk they would return to the prefab to continue their drinking sessions into the early hours of the morning. His father also had the prestigious role as chairman of Crossmaglen Rangers, one of the country’s most successful GAA clubs, where Brady played at underage level.

But despite all this, there were financial burdens hanging over him from a court case, and he needed to make quick, easy cash. This greed would have fatal consequences.

Born to Tony and Caroline Brady on February 16, 1991 in Dundalk, Aaron Brady and his family lived in the Monaghan village of Inniskeen before relocating to Nottingham in England.

His parents would later have two daughters, Sonya and Laurene.

After the family settled in England, Tony Brady worked as a milkman while also studying to be a physiotherapist for four years. He would later take up work as a physio for various GAA teams when the family moved back to Ireland in the early 2000s.

After returning home when he was 11, Brady attended Abbey Grammar School in Newry before moving to St Joseph's High School in Crossmaglen a year later. It was here that he met his best friend – a man who would later become Lordship robbery Suspect A – and the two men would become inseparable.

At the age of 16, Brady finished school having completed his ordinary level GCSEs and took up work as an electrician, serving his apprenticeship in Cavan before moving on to do a FÁS course in Sligo for six months.

Due to the economic downturn, work dried up and like many people his age Brady emigrated to Australia in his late teens and later to the US.

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When he returned to Ireland in 2011 he worked in his father's advertising business selling ads locally along the Border. He was also regularly socialising with another Armagh man some years older than him- and who would later become Suspect B in the murder.

The men were suspected of regularly carrying out burglaries and car robberies together, as well as freelancing in diesel-waste dumping.

Aaron Brady was also building up minor criminal convictions for public order, driving a stolen car and other motoring offences on both sides of the Border.

His behaviour was becoming more erratic and he would come to further garda attention.

In the early hours of October 2, 2011, he led gardaí on a chase around Dundalk town during which he rammed two taxis and a garda patrol van.

The chase caused thousands of euros worth of damage and he was later charged with dangerous driving, unauthorised taking of a vehicle and three counts of criminal damage.

The bail conditions and curfew imposed did little to stop him, and he was also left with a compensation bill to pay for the damage caused.

By January 2013 Aaron Brady, along with his group of fellow bandits, made a decision to rob the credit union at Lordship – the last stop for the cash collection on the Cooley peninsula every Friday night.

The robbery, on the last Friday of the month, netted the gang just €7,000 while a further €27,000 was left behind in a separate bag. The raid had also cost Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe his life.

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Aaron Brady. Photo: Ciara Wilkinson

Aaron Brady. Photo: Ciara Wilkinson

Aaron Brady. Photo: Ciara Wilkinson

By the following day, during a chance encounter with gardaí, suspicions were growing around Brady and his friends of their involvement in the Lordship robbery.

He walked into Dundalk garda station 10 days later to, by his own admission, “clear his name of rumours” around his local community linking him to the murder.

However, the compulsive liar did little to quell garda suspicions and their investigations into him would intensify after he spun a tissue of lies about his whereabouts that night.

The media speculation around his involvement increased, and one Sunday newspaper printed a pixelated image of him on their front page within weeks of the murder.

On April 8, the PSNI searched his home on behalf of gardaí. The pressure got too much, and five days later he boarded an American Airlines flight from Belfast to Newark airport in New Jersey.

Coincidentally, his new British travel documents, which he had applied for after his Irish passport expired, had arrived days earlier.

First, he settled in Boston, working with his best-friend and fellow robbery suspect in tarmacadam and snow ploughing.

Within a year a major disagreement developed between the two men, which Brady said was because he had disappeared to New York.

In early 2014 he relocated to the Woodlawn area of the Bronx where he got accustomed to life within the Irish expat community.

He got a job in construction, played for a local GAA team, and would frequent the various pubs along Katonah Avenue every weekend.

Brady would tell the trial it was a “home away from home” and that many people he knew from Armagh had relocated in Woodlawn.

As time passed, Aaron Brady grew more confident. He was living openly among the community, using his given name and regularly updating his social media accounts on his new life in New York.

In time the fugitive would, in the words of prosecutor Lorcan Staines SC, start wearing the murder of Det Gda Adrian Donohoe as a “badge of honour”.

Detectives had even received information that he showed up to one Halloween party in the US dressed as a cop.

What began as confiding in only his close friends developed into more brazen admissions in one-off encounters with strangers or barmen.

Gardaí obtained one statement from a witness who said he encountered Brady in the Tombstone Bar in the Bronx, in the summer of 2014 and, after being asked if he was the person on the run, he admitted to the shooting.

There was, the witness said, no bravado on this occasion and the man was surprised in the matter-of-fact way Aaron Brady had made the comment. At other times he was more boisterous about his involvement. Gardaí received information from one man of how Brady was again in the Tombstone Bar on St Patrick's Day 2015 and openly bragged to his friends about what it was like to kill someone.

Aaron Brady's violent side came to the fore on this occasion as he assaulted the eavesdropper and threatened him to keep his mouth shut about what he had heard. The witness only identified Brady at a later stage after seeing a photo of a Crossmaglen Rangers team, but he refused to come to court.

The boasting by Brady extended beyond the Donohoe murder. Intelligence received by gardai in 2017 revealed he claimed to have worked for one of Ireland's most dangerous criminals back home. In one confidential report it was stated that Brady said he had laundered diesel for the ‘Border Fox’ – the notorious paramilitary Dessie O'Hare.

By that time, it was common knowledge among the Irish community in Woodlawn that the Crossmaglen man was being blamed for the murder of a guard back in Ireland.

Key prosecution witnesses would tell the murder trial how Aaron Brady seemed to feed off this. Molly Staunton revealed how Brady and his friends said they were “the most feared men in Ireland”.

During the drunken rant he also expressed concern, albeit about his ability to provide for his unborn son rather than the murder.

Daniel Cahill, a barman who worked in one of the pubs Brady drank in, witnessed first-hand the murder suspect’s erratic behaviour. He told the trial of one fight in which Brady was punched in the face before threatening to kill the man who had assaulted him.

He recalled Brady shouting he “was going to shoot” the man who had punched him and that this wouldn't “be the first person he'd shot and that he's no problem doing it again”.

Other times he appeared more concerned about what happened, or at least the consequences he faced. Mr Cahill recalled an occasion in the bar where Aaron Brady was sitting at the counter nearly crying into his pint, saying he had nightmares about what happened. On a final meeting he would recall how Brady stopped him coming home from work one night and showed him a newspaper article of the Donohoe suspect ‘living it up’ in New York. Brady menacingly told Daniel Cahill that ‘the papers’ were writing about him, which the barman inferred as a threat to keep quiet.

Despite the numerous admissions during his time in the Bronx, Aaron Brady was confident they wouldn't come back to haunt him.

In late 2015 he had met Danielle Healy, a barmaid who worked in the Heritage Bar in nearby Yonkers where he regularly drank. By the following October the Kerry woman gave birth to the couple's baby boy. In April 2017 they got married and Brady applied for an American green card as Ms Healy was a US citizen. All seemed to be going well for Aaron Brady.

The fugitive believed his reputation in the Bronx was enough for people to maintain their silence, and that he was out of the reach of gardaí in his new safe haven.

He was wrong. Shortly after 5am on May 18, 2017, his world came crashing in when Homeland Security agents detained him for being in the country illegally as he drove to work. Brady was deported the following week and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment over the Dundalk offence he was on bail for when he fled the country.

By March 2018, he had been arrested and charged with the fatal shooting of Adrian Donohoe and, following the longest murder trial in the history of the State, would be convicted.

He had built a new life in New York where he believed he was untouchable. But, for the next 40 years, Aaron Brady will simply be known as prisoner 74326.

Online Editors