Wednesday 15 August 2018

'Guilty of f***ing what?' - man's outburst as he is convicted of murdering two men

Dubliner Jason O'Driscoll
Dubliner Jason O'Driscoll
Dubliner Jason O'Driscoll

Eoin Reynolds

A 35-year-old Dubliner shouted "guilty of f***ing what" when a jury convicted him of murdering two men who had arranged to sell him a stolen car.

The jury had been asked to use circumstantial evidence to convict Jason O’Driscoll of Richmond Avenue, Fairview who pleaded not guilty to murdering 31-year-old Anthony Burnett and 25-year-old Joseph Redmond, in Co Louth on March 7, 2012.

Anthony Burnett
Anthony Burnett

The jury of five women and seven men spent more than seven hours considering their verdicts, which the foreman said were by a ten to two majority. As the judge thanked the jury for their service and exempted them from further duty for 15 years, O'Driscoll stood up and said: "Guilty of f***ing what."

Justice Michael White will hand down the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment on October 2.

He adjourned sentencing after counsel for the prosecution, Alex Owens SC, asked for time to allow the families of the deceased men put together an impact statement to be read to the court.

The Central Criminal Court heard that emergency services were called to a burning car in a lay-by at Ravensdale Forest Park at 10.51 that night. Firefighters described badly burned remains of the two men inside the car.

The five-week trial heard that the bodies were fused together but were later confirmed to be those of the two Dubliners. They died of gunshot wounds to their heads before petrol was used to set fire to the black diesel Volkswagen Golf.

The State proved to the jury that the accused had attended the scene with another man and had participated in their murders. O’Driscoll was arraigned before the Central Criminal Court on June 25, replying: ‘Not guilty. I’m innocent’ to each charge. It was his second time to go on trial for the murders. A previous jury failed to reach a verdict late last year.

The court heard evidence that his two victims had left their homes that evening to travel north to sell him a car they’d stolen that morning. O'Driscoll was living in Newry and had told them he’d pay €700 for the one-year-old Volkswagen Golf if they would drive it up to him.

The deceased were both from Ballybough in the north inner city and were described by the State as ‘small-time criminals’ involved in car theft. O'Driscoll's first trial heard that, although they had known each other since childhood, they had begun hanging around together only about a week before their murders.

While Gardaí had informed Mr Redmond that his life was under threat, Mr Burnett had turned his life around, had been off drugs, was mixing with different people and had bought his own apartment in Turkey. However, the court heard that his birthday was coming up and he was fed up with having no money.

He and Mr Redmond decided to steal a car from a driveway in Sandymount. The first trial heard that Mr Redmond had put his hand through the owner’s letterbox, opened the door to their house and taken the keys to their car.

The court heard that they had been trying to sell the Golf all day, with Mr Burnett even trying to sell it to one of his new, law-abiding friends. A witness testified that the accused had eventually agreed to buy the car for €700 and that his victims had travelled north that night to make the sale.

The first trial heard that Mr Burnett told his sister that he trusted the person he was going to meet. However, Mr Redmond’s sister heard Mr Burnett say that he hoped they weren’t walking into a trap, having mentioned that he was fighting with someone.

Much of the rest of the case was built on circumstantial evidence.

The jury saw CCTV footage of Mr O’Driscoll and another man topping up mobile phones that were in contact with the deceased on the night of the murders. There was also footage of Mr O’Driscoll in a hotel, where there was a pay phone that showed up in their call records from that evening.

O’Driscoll was also one of two men, captured on footage around 11.10pm, entering an off licence in Meigh just north of the border.

It was just moments after a Mercedes S Class was seen entering the shop’s car park. However, the defence did not agree with the inference that the State wished to draw that O’Driscoll was one of two people seen walking away from this car in the darker, outdoor footage.

The defence also did not concede that this was the getaway car.

The State argued that the getaway car was the stolen silver Mercedes S Class that had been involved in a high-speed police chase in Newry minutes after the murder and minutes before the S Class carrying two people arrived at the off licence.

The stolen car was found abandoned near Meigh the following morning. Its false plates had been removed, but the documentation in the windscreen matched the registration plate of the car in the police chase. Justice Michael White said that it was ‘definitive’ that the abandoned S Class was the same one involved in the police chase.

It appeared to have ground itself on a mound of concrete in a building site, and a crime scene investigator testified that it smelled of cleaning fluid and appeared to have been cleaned.

The State needed to prove that the abandoned Mercedes was the same car that the murderers used to get to and from the shootings and that O’Driscoll was one of the occupants. It had to rely on circumstantial evidence, including the testimony of PSNI officers and expert witnesses from the UK.

The prosecution called Andy Wooller, a vehicle identification expert from England, to view footage of two cars travelling in Ravensdale minutes before the 999 call as well as the footage from the off-licence car park. The case was the first time such evidence was used in court here.

He had no knowledge of any suspect vehicles and made a number of conclusions. He then organised a reconstruction, suggesting that the gardai provide about a dozen vehicles, including a Mercedes S Class W221 and a Golf, to be driven the same routes at slow speed for a side-by-side comparison.

The Gardai put the abandoned S Class W221 through this vehicle identification parade, first fixing to it registration plates identical to those seen on it in the Newry chase.

This is the car the expert picked out as being the most likely match for the light-coloured saloon outside the off licence in both his initial view and his reconstruction. He couldn’t completely rule out two other models as being the saloon in Ravensdale.

He picked out two possible matches for the dark hatchback seen following it at Ravensdale. These included the same model of Golf as the burnt-out car.

A number of PSNI officers gave evidence of involvement in a high-speed car chase in nearby Newry around the time the bodies were found. A suspicious, southern-registered Mercedes had been spotted entering the city on the Dublin Road and had sped off when the driver was instructed to pull over.

Two officers got a look at the driver before he got away and facial composites were made and shown to the jury. In his closing speech, Alexander Owens SC, prosecuting, described one of them as ‘a very good match or likeness of Mr O’Driscoll’s companion and associate’ when he entered the off licence in Meigh just minutes later.

The State argued that there was no rational explanation other than that O’Driscoll was involved in the murder. It was not necessary to establish the precise role that the he had played but that there was a ‘wad of evidence’ which pointed to his guilt.

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