Friday 13 December 2019

Man who sent 'laughing emojis' to friends after beating victim "to a pulp" has murder conviction upheld

Anthony Walsh
Anthony Walsh

Ruaidhrí Giblin

A man who sent “laughing emojis” to friends after savagely beating his victim “to a pulp” and stripping him of his clothes has lost an appeal against his conviction for murder.

Anthony Walsh (32), of no fixed abode, had admitted killing Dermot Byrne (54) at North St, Swords, Co Dublin on July 16, 2017, but denied it was murder.

The Central Criminal Court heard that Mr Byrne suffered more than 150 injuries as a result of Walsh’s savage beating following a drunken row over a cigarette.

Walsh claimed Mr Byrne attacked him, cornered him and kept coming at him, trying to rugby tackle him while throwing kicks and punches.

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Prosecuting counsel, Vincent Heneghan SC, told the jury that Walsh’s version of events was unrealistic as he was six-foot-one while Mr Byrne was five-foot-four, and was highly intoxicated on the night in question.

Walsh sent a series of social media messages to friends in the aftermath of the killing. In one message, he talked about giving the deceased about 30 kicks, followed by a number of laughing emojis that were characterised as “laughing and crying”.

Dermot Byrne
Dermot Byrne

In a voice message sent via a messaging service, Walsh told a friend: “I’m going to fucking jail”. He referred to a “poor old fella being kicked to death” in Swords the previous night and added that there were “fucking animals out there ha ha ha ha”.

He was found guilty by a jury after two hours and 41 minutes of deliberations and was given the mandatory life sentence by Ms Justice Eileen Creedon on October 22, 2018.

Walsh unsuccessfully sought to appeal his conviction today on grounds that the messages should not have been admitted into evidence.

His barrister, Brendan Grehan SC, submitted that the voice message was highly prejudicial and did not advance the prosecution case beyond where it was.

Mr Grehan said the voice message was at best, “tasteless” and the “ha ha ha ha” put the accused in a particularly bad light.

Upholding Walsh’s conviction in the Court of Appeal today, Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly said Walsh’s reference to going to jail was clearly an admission and acceptance of wrongdoing.

She said the reference to kicking was part of a “developing narrative” that showed Walsh understood that he had kicked the man to death, not merely by punching him, as his earlier social media messages suggested.

Ms Justice Donnelly said the issue was finely balanced but there was no basis for holding that the evidence was more prejudicial than probative.

A second ground of appeal in relation to the partial defence of provocation was also dismissed.

Ms Justice Donnelly, who sat with President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy, upheld Walsh’s conviction and dismissed the appeal.

Walsh had a number of previous convictions for public order, burglary, criminal damage and misuse of drugs.

He did not explain to gardai why he stripped Mr Byrne's clothes although it was suggested by prosecuting counsel that it was an attempt to destroy forensic evidence.

Following Walsh’s conviction, Mr Byrne’s daughter Shawna Byrne gave an emotional statement, telling the court her family's world stopped the day he died, "his life and his dignity taken in an absolutely savage way.”

Ms Byrne said the family no longer felt safe in the town they grew up in. Their local credit union and dentist were across the road from where their dad was beaten to death at the steps to Fingal College.

She told the court that her family had tickets to see Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final the day their dad was murdered. "He was one of the most important people in our lives, as a father but also as a husband, a brother and a son," she said.

“His white van would no longer be parked outside the house. The familiar sound of his voice, joking about one thing or another was gone. He will not be there for our milestones," she said, adding: "Our dad will not be there to walk us up the aisle like he was supposed to.”

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