Two Dublin brothers have appealed against their second conviction for murdering a father-of-six in front of his wife and children outside his Dublin home.
Warren (39) and Jeffrey Dumbrell (33) were jailed for life in February 2011, after being convicted of the murder of Christopher Cawley at Tyrone Place flats in Inchicore.
The brothers, last of Emmet Place in Inchicore, had both pleaded not guilty to murdering the 33-year-old on October 29th, 2006. It was the second time a Central Criminal Court jury had found them guilty of the murder.
Mr Cawley was attacked and fatally stabbed on the stairway of the flat complex where he lived. The court heard that Mr Cawley’s wife Janette, five-year-old son and eldest daughter witnessed the attack.
The court also heard that while Mr Cawley's daughter was collapsed screaming on the ground, one of the Dumbrells said: ‘Your Daddy's gone now’ as they walked away from the scene.
The brothers’ first conviction in 2008 was deemed ‘unsafe’ by the Court of Criminal Appeal in July 2010, because of comments made by Mr Justice Paul Carney in a lecture he gave while presiding over the case.
Mr Justice Carney's speech included statements on a number of issues relevant to the trial, including fatal stabbings and sentencing policy, the court said. It found that this rendered the brothers’ murder conviction ‘unsafe’ and ordered a retrial.
Warren Dumbrell’s barrister, Michael O’Higgins SC, yesterday (Friday) told the Court of Criminal Appeal that the second trial judge erred in law in failing to properly direct the jury not to conduct their own internet enquiries about the case; the judge had regarded a warning about such conduct as sufficient.
Mr O’Higgins pointed out that the Law Reform Commission had recommended that the Oireachtas make it an offence for jurors to consult the internet about cases.
He said that simply trusting jurors to do their duty was ‘almost an expression of blind faith in the system’.
“The balance is out of kilter,” he said. “The proper course would be for the Oireachtas to address that.”
Mr O’Higgins further submitted that the trial judge, Mr Justice Butler, erred by failing to warn the jury that the victim had a proclivity for violence and previous conviction for carrying knives.
He said the defence was denied the opportunity to introduce such previous convictions without dropping its shield. He pointing to a law that said adducing such evidence meant the accused person’s own convictions could be disclosed.
Jeffrey Dumbrell had told the trial that Christopher Cawley had threatened him and his co-accused with a knife when they got to Tyrone Place. He claimed he grabbed it from him and stabbed Mr Cawley in self-defence.
The prosecution had claimed that both brothers went to the scene armed and acted in common design.
“Clearly, the most important aspect of the case was whether Mr Cawley produced the knife, very important to Warren Dumbrell’s case,” he said. “The judge, we contend, made a legal error.”
Brendan Nix SC, representing Jeffrey Dumbrell, said he adopted the arguments made by Mr O’Higgins.
Paul Burns SC, for the State, noted that it wasn’t for the courts to compel the Oireachtas to enact legislation.
He said the brothers had received a fair trial, and there was no suggestion that the jury had considered anything other than what they had heard in court.
“Juries have to be trusted to act judicially,” he said.
“To say that a fair trial couldn’t take place until the adoption of an offence is to say that, for years now, unfair trials have taken place,” he added.
On the issue of previous convictions, Mr Burns noted that Jeffrey Dumbrell had entered the witness box during the trial and made the jury aware of Mr Cawley’s previous convictions.
Chief Justice Susan Denham, presiding, said the appeal court would reserve its judgement.