Friday 19 April 2019

'Get out at Probability Station, you're in the wrong place for a conviction': Jury hears closing speeches in Tipperary murder trial

After 13 weeks, the Mr Moonlight jury hears the closing speeches in the Tipperary murder trial, writes Maeve Sheehan

BOBBY’S GIRL: Mary Lowry leaving the Central Criminal Court. Defence counsel Bernard Condon told the jury that she was a witness of ‘high unreliability’ who engaged in ‘striking revisionism’. Picture: Mark Condren
BOBBY’S GIRL: Mary Lowry leaving the Central Criminal Court. Defence counsel Bernard Condon told the jury that she was a witness of ‘high unreliability’ who engaged in ‘striking revisionism’. Picture: Mark Condren
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

IT was Friday afternoon in Court 13 and the jury was being informed that it was about to board a train, or at least the "forensic equivalent" of one. Defence counsel Bernard Condon was on his feet, working up his analogy for the six men and six women who were facing him.

The jurors were being asked to embark on a journey, he said. It would be uphill, with twists and turns and lines branching off: "You might pass Suspicion Station. You might pass Likely Station, you might even pass Probability Station... but if you get out at Probability Station you are in the wrong place for a conviction."

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His client, Patrick Quirke, was parked in Innocence. At the end of the line was the station marked guilt. The fuel driving the train toward that final station was evidence, and if it was not Grade A they were not going to make it to the top. And that, Mr Condon suggested, was where the prosecution had a problem: "It is thin, it is extremely thin."

The six men and women have already been on a long journey at the Central Criminal Court. They have spent 13 works listening to the evidence in the trial of dairy farmer Mr Quirke (50) for the murder of Bobby Ryan (52), a truck driver and DJ known as Mr Moonlight.

Mr Ryan disappeared on June 3, 2011, from his girlfriend Mary Lowry's home at Fawnagowan, outside Tipperary town.

The prosecution case is that Mr Quirke, from nearby Breanshamore, murdered Mr Ryan to rekindle his affair with the widowed Ms Lowry and staged the recovery of his body in a disused run-off tank on her farm. Mr Quirke is pleading not guilty.

The jury has heard how Mr Quirke and Ms Lowry began an affair after her husband Martin died, and how their families are connected by marriage: his wife, Imelda, is Ms Lowry's late husband's sister.

Now the case is coming to a close. The jury has heard the evidence and the time to decide on Mr Quirke's guilt or innocence draws near.

Spectators continued to file into the public gallery to hear the closing speeches delivered by the prosecution and defence. They would have heard Mr Condon mention the "prurient" interest in the case, and the "enormous" media attention it has received.

Michael Bowman, for the prosecution, acknowledged that Mr Quirke was being tried on circumstantial evidence, in a "forensically barren" landscape and with no weapon, exact location or time of death. But there was only so much coincidence that the human mind could take, he told the court.

Ms Lowry, the widow who had an affair with Mr Quirke, was an important witness. The trial wasn't about her. It was about Mr Ryan, her boyfriend at the time he disappeared, a man who brought a smile to the faces of all the witnesses who spoke about him, a man who dearly loved and was loved by his children and was universally liked.

Who would want to kill him, strip him of his possessions, his clothes, his dignity and leave his body to decompose in a sealed tank?

Murder was not Mr Quirke's first port of call, Mr Bowman said. He had twice tried to scupper Ms Lowry's relationship with Mr Ryan, not accepting that his affair with her was over.

In December 2010, Mr Quirke took Ms Lowry's phone to contact Mr Ryan, telling him he was "the man" and that Mr Ryan was being "played for a fool". His second attempt was to report her to Tusla for neglecting her children because of her new relationship.

He claimed to gardai that her family were "disgusted" when she showed up at a Lowry family party with Mr Ryan. Yet the Lowry family's evidence was that they were "delighted" for her.

As for the day Mr Ryan disappeared - June 3, 2011, after leaving Ms Lowry's farm at 6.30am - Mr Bowman went through Mr Quirke's account of that morning. He told gardai that he usually got up at around 6.15am and started milking the cows after 7am. A neighbour's son helped him to finish the milking.

He went to Ms Lowry's farm at around 8.30am to collect two bulls to bring back to his farm - a time when he knew he would "have the run of" her property because she took her children to school and her mother-in-law, who lived beside her, always went with her.

"He tells gardai he finishes at 9.15am and has gone for breakfast at 9.30am," said Mr Bowman. Breda O'Dwyer, an artificial insemination technician who called that morning at 9.30am, said Mr Quirke was still milking the cows - which was unusual as he would normally be finished when she arrived.

Her evidence was "compelling", he said.

Mr Quirke triggered a "curious and fatal" chain of events on December 3, 2012, when he was caught on CCTV looking around Ms Lowry's house, interfering with her clothes line and her post. Her solicitor wrote to him, asking him to leave the farm. He knew that he was "well and truly rumbled".

On that same day, someone conducted three internet searches for rates of human body decomposition on a computer later seized from his home. "It is Patrick Quirke sitting at that computer, ladies and gentlemen," said Mr Bowman, "logic screams it."

He pointed to Garda interviews when Mr Quirke was asked about these and other internet searches. The relevant dates were: July 25, 2012, September 11, 2012, and December 3, 2012.

Did he have any explanation for "what we spoke about so far, Pat".

"My son had recently died, that's all I'm saying," Mr Quirke replied.

The court has previously heard how Mr Quirke's son died in August 2012. Gardai put to him a search on July 25, 2012. Gardai said this "blows out of the water" what he had told them. Mr Quirke said it didn't - he had been referring to the search in December of that year.

There is a limit to how much coincidence the human mind can tolerate, Mr Bowman said. Was this breaking point?

Mr Quirke knew he had overstepped the mark, that he was going to lose the farm and lose control, he said. Was it coincidence that as the clock ticked down on the lease at Fawnagowan coming to an end, he decided to empty slurry from the slatted cow shed and decided to draw water from a tank he had not looked in since 2008?

The larvae found on Mr Ryan's body suggested a one-off opening of the tank 11 days before his body was found, said Mr Bowman.

Mr Quirke was one of only four people in the world who knew of the existence of this tank. It emerged in his Garda interviews that he knew the depth of it, and how much sludge was at the bottom of it - something that could be known only by someone who had got into the tank, Mr Bowman said.

Mr Quirke told gardai the last time he opened the tank was when a calf got its leg stuck in it, and that he got it fenced off.

But that was not the tank that farmhand Emmet Kenny remembered fencing off - he identified "with precision" a different tank at the front of the house.

Mr Bowman pointed to the clothes that Mr Quirke wore on the day the body was found when he intended to agitate "thousands of gallons of slurry: a "jacket, a shirt and a pair of pants", not his green overalls.

He noted how Mr Quirke crouched in over the tank to look inside. But there was no mention of the overpowering odour that the court heard should have emanated but quickly dissipated when it was opened.

Mr Quirke said he was shocked at discovering the body and couldn't think clearly. This was the explanation he gave gardai for ringing his wife, Imelda.

Was it a "quirk of fate" that he should have the clarity to also ring his vet and check his voicemail?

Mr Ryan's death was "callous" and "calculated" and there were "no other rational hypotheses" but that Mr Quirke was guilty of the murder, Mr Bowman concluded.

Bernard Condon, for the defence, told the jurors that the case was "based on theory".

He urged them to be sceptical and reminded them that their decision would have to be beyond reasonable doubt.

The Garda investigation was "sub-optimal". Ms Lowry was a witness of "high unreliability" who engaged in "striking revisionism". She was "not incapable of standing up for herself", he said. She was not as vulnerable as she presented to you, he added.

Mr Condon will resume his closing speech tomorrow.

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