Saturday 24 February 2018

Man found guilty of firing 10 bullets into a car loses murder appeal


Ruaidhrí Giblin

A man jailed for life for firing 10 bullets into his victim in Dublin in 2010 has lost an appeal against his conviction for murder.

Jonathan Douglas (30), aka Yuka, of O'Devaney Gardens in Dublin, had pleaded not guilty at the Central Criminal Court to the murder of Aidan Bryne at Drumalee Avenue, north Dublin on February 20, 2010.

He was found guilty by a jury following an 11-day trial and given a mandatory life sentence by Mr Justice Paul Carney on July 23 2012.

The jury heard Douglas was hired to kill 31-year-old Mr Byrne who was a front seat passenger of a Toyota Corolla car which was driven by another man to a lane way in Drumalee estate near the North Circular Road.

Douglas waited for the arrival of the car and walked up to it before firing 10 bullets into the passenger window, killing Mr Byrne. The bullets hit the victim in the chest and abdomen.

Prosecution counsel Gerard Clarke SC said Douglas was drinking in Eamon Rea's pub on Parkgate Street in Dublin a short time before the shooting.

“He left the pub suddenly leaving half a drink behind him and went to where Mr Byrne was going to be driven to and he was waiting to shoot him,” according to prosecuting counsel.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis told the court Mr Byrne died from multiple gun shot wounds to his body. He said that eight of the bullets had exited Mr Byrne's body while two remained inside his body.

Central to Douglas's appeal against conviction, which was opened in the Court of Appeal in October, was the trial judge's treatment of two witness statements made by Douglas' step-niece Stacey Douglas and her boyfriend Andrew Sheridan.

The couple had originally made statements to gardaí implicating Jonathan Douglas in the murder but subsequently recanted from what they had stated and were treated as hostile witnesses during the trial.

Giving judgment in the Court of Appeal today, Mr Justice Alan Mahon said the judge did not err in his decision to admit the evidence on the basis that they were matters ultimately for a jury to decide on their truthfulness or voluntariness.

Mr Justice Mahon said the jury heard the evidence of Ms Douglas and Mr Sheridan in relation to the circumstances in which their statements were made and efforts they made to withdraw them.

It was made clear to the jury that a central issue in the trial was the truthfulness or voluntariness of the statements.

Mr Justice Mahon said the court was satisfied that the jury was adequately directed by the judge and it was unlikely that the jury didn't appreciate its task.

Furthermore, the reference in evidence to "gangland killing" by a prosecution witness ought not to have been uttered, Mr Justice Mahon said, but it was made out of the blue at an an early stage in a long running trial.

The manner in which it was comprehensively addressed by the trial judge negated any risk of prejudice, Mr Justice Mahon said.

Finally, he said it was appropriate that issues related to Ms Douglas and Mr Sheridan were matters to be left for the jury.

Mr Justice Mahon, who sat with Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan, said all grounds of appeal were therefor dismissed.

Counsel for Douglas, Michael O'Higgins SC, said the trial judge simply held that where there was a conflict between what was said by the witnesses and the gardaí, he was going to accept the Garda version.

Mr O'Higgins said he made repeated complaints about the procedure adopted by the trial judge but “it was as if the argument had never been made” and none of the matters canvassed were adjudicated on at all.

He said it was a significant departure from what was required according to case law.

The procedure of introducing such statements - under section 16 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 - had been around for 10 years, Mr O'Higgins said, and was done to countenance gangland killings to prevent witnesses being “got at”.

Mr O'Higgins said the jury should have had the opportunity to analyse the witnesses demeanour when making the statements, their reasons for recanting, any motivation they had to fabricate their statements, the extent to which the witnesses recantations limited the prosecution and the existence or otherwise of coaching.

None of that was in this case, Mr O'Higgins said, which was fatal to the prosecution.

Mr O'Higgins further submitted that the trial judge erred in finding that the two witnesses were not alleged accomplices and as such the jury did not need to be warned of the dangers of convicting on the evidence of an accomplice.

Finally, Mr O'Higgins said the characterisation of the shooting as a “gangland murder” by a garda in the witness box was unfair and brought into the case a prejudicial dimension.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Gerard Clarke SC, said Douglas had gone to the witnesses' house immediately after the shooting and during his time there, he told them everything that had happened.

Mr Clarke said their statements were taken 14 days after the killing and they gave the most detailed account imagineable.

Furthermore, the jury had the advantage of seeing video tapes of the witnesses' demeanour while their statements were read back to them, counsel said, and their demeanour was at total variance with their oral evidence that they were coerced and frightened.

They were totally relaxed, Mr Clarke said, laughing and smoking and signing each page of their statement as it was read back to them.

Mr Clarke said the evidence clearly established that this was a gangland killing and there was no merit in Mr O'Higgins' submission on prejudice.

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