Sunday 18 February 2018

Garda killer seeks immediate release from prison, High Court told

Garda killer Michael McHugh seeks immediate release from prison, High Court told
Garda killer Michael McHugh seeks immediate release from prison, High Court told

Tim Healy

A MAN who has spent decades behind bars for the murder of a garda has brought a legal action seeking his immediate release from prison.

Michael McHugh, who shot dead Sergeant Patrick Morrissey following an armed robbery in 1985, was initially sentenced to death for the murder in December of that year.

That sentence was commuted to one of 40 years penal servitude by then President Patrick Hillery, seven days before the execution was scheduled to be carried out.

McHugh has served his sentence at the maximum security Portlaoise Prison.

In High Court proceedings against the Governor of the prison, the Minister for Justice, the Irish Prison Service and the DPP, McHugh claims when the 25 per cent remission generally granted to prisoners is taken into account, he is due for release after 30 years.

However, he claims he is not being given credit for five months he spent in custody before his murder trial.

That was between July 3 and December 3, 1985.

The application is being opposed by the State parties, on grounds including McHugh does not have an automatic entitlement to be given credit for the five months in question.

It is also argued by the defendants they do not have the power to take the five months into account as the original court sentence imposed was the death penalty.

In his action, McHugh claims the State has failed to give reasons for why his application to be included in a pre-release programmes was rejected.

McHugh's counsel, Micheal Ó Higgins, argued his client is entitled to be given credit for five months.

If his client is successful in his action he is entitled to immediate release from prison - his sentence having expired on July 1 last.  If not McHugh will be released in December of this year, counsel added.

The State was telling him McHugh to "suck it up" and "take it on the chin", counsel said.

While McHugh was convicted of "an appalling act", the decision not to take those months into account was wrong, counsel submitted. 

McHugh, with an address Clonalig, Crossmaglen, Co Armagh and Noel Callan, formerly of Cullaville, Castleblayney, Co Monaghan were convicted by the non-jury Special Criminal Court in December 1985 of the murder of Sergeant Morrissey (49) at Rathbrist, Tallanstown, on June 27, 1985, following an armed robbery at Ardee Labour Exchange.

Sgt Morrissey was initially wounded by McHugh, before he then shot the unarmed officer in the head.

The hearing, before Mr Justice Paul McDermott, continues.

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