A MAN who claimed he was acting in self-defence when he bludgeoned his friend to death with a rock weighing 1.6 kilos has been convicted of murder.
Thomas O’Connor (29) of Burnaby Court, Greystones had been charged with murdering John O’Brien, who was from Burnaby Lawns in Greystones on June 4, 2010.
The father of one had pleaded not guilty to murder, but guilty to the 22-year-old’s manslaughter at Farrankelly Road, Delgany, Co Wicklow.
O’Connor had admitted hitting Mr O’Brien over the head with the boulder “two or three times” but said he only did so to protect himself after his friend attacked him.
A post-mortem later revealed Mr O’Brien died from “catastrophic injuries” as a result of blunt force trauma to the head
Today, a jury at the Central Criminal Court took just under four hours to find him guilty of murdering Mr O’Brien.
O’Connor, who was 22 at the time of the killing, now faces a mandatory life sentence.
During their deliberations, the jury of six men and six women asked to re-examine the murder weapon.
They returned less than half-an-hour later to say they had found the accused guilty of murder
Dressed casually in a grey wind-cheater and blue jeans. O’Connor kept his head bowed and did not react when the verdict was read out.
Trial judge Ms Justice Margaret Heneghan remanded the accused in custody for sentencing on March 23 and exempt the jury from service for 10 years.
During the nine-day trial, O’Connor claimed that Mr O’Brien was alive and “still moving” when he fled the scene shortly before midnight.
But paramedics said all signs of life from the victim were absent when they arrived minutes later.
Paramedic Francoise Coussay said Mr Brien’s injuries were incompatible with life, adding that his skull appeared deformed.
On the day of the killing, court was told, the accused had spent that afternoon caring for snakes and other animals in a pet shop. in Albert Walk, Bray.
The jury was also told that hours after he killed his friend, the accused spoke to gardaí in his boxer shorts with a pet snake in his hands.
Mr O’Connor’s live-in girlfriend at the time, Ellen Lyons, said the accused wasn’t fully clothed and was carrying the reptile when he left the house they shared to speak to gardai.
Denis Vaughan Buckley SC, prosecuting, in his closing the speech, had told the court that a “defence of partial self-defence has been raised in this case”.
Explaining the relevance of this to the jury, Mr Vaughan Buckley said that “in the case of lethal force, if the accused uses more force than is reasonably necessary but no more than he, in your judgement considered necessary” then they should find him guilty of manslaughter.
However, the prosecution counsel said that there was “overwhelming evidence that the accused is guilty of murder”.
Referring to interviews the accused gave to gardai following his arrest on June 5, 2010, Mr Vaughan Buckley said the Mr O’Connor had told officers he had hit the deceased “two or three times” with the rock.
When gardai asked if he (O’Connor) had “lost his head”, the accused replied: “When he threw the rock at me, he stumbled and fell to the ground.”
Mr Vaughan Buckley told the jury: “He didn’t say ‘he lost his head’,”, adding that in later interviews the accused had “admitted that he went too far”.
The jury was also reminded how the accused claimed both men had been fighting before the fatal blows were struck and that O'Connor said he had got "a couple of boxes to the head from John".
But Mr Vaughan Buckley disputed this claim, saying that a medical examination of the accused after his arrest showed “no signs of head injuries”.
Earlier in the trial, the court was told how O’Connor and Mr O’Brien had started drinking together after bumping into one another outside a supermarket hours before the fatal attack.
Defence counsel Feargal Kavanagh SC said that both the deceased and accused “knew each other and socialised with each other, possibly drinking to excess”.
But Mr Kavanagh said that on the night in question, his client had been “someone asked by his live-in girlfriend to get a loaf of bread. He is not setting out to kill anyone”.
He said his client had acted in self-defence, adding “He was struck first by John O’Brien and there was a tussle.”
Telling the jury that he didn’t want to speak “unkindly of the dead”, Mr Kavanagh said that prior to the fatal blows being struck, the “heavily intoxicated” Mr O’Brien had “already attacked others randomly and without cause”.
The jury was also told how O’Connor had try to destroy evidence by scrubbing his hands clean in a friend’s house and burning his hoodie top in a nearby field after he was left covered in the dead man’s blood.
But Mr Kavanagh said his client had panicked because he was “abhorred at what he has done, he’s aghast at the sight of blood”.
Referring to his client’s guilty plea to the manslaughter charge, the defence counsel said O’Connor was “not trying to avoid the consequences of what he did”.
However, Mr Kavanagh had told the jury: “This is not a cold-blooded murder, this is a self-defence case.”
This is the second time O’Connor has been convicted of Mr O’Brien’s murder.
In June 2010, he was found guilty following a trial.
But in November 2014, the Court of Criminal Appeal overturned this verdict and ordered a retrial.