Killer Patrick Quirke has lost an appeal against his conviction for the murder of love rival Bobby Ryan.
The Court of Appeal gave its ruling this morning, rejecting all 52 grounds advanced by Quirke’s legal team.
The 52-year-old farmer watched the ruling via video link from Portlaoise Prison. Wearing a grey suit and a light blue facemask, he showed no sign of emotion as the court delivered its ruling.
“We have considered the grounds of appeal advanced. We have concluded that we haven’t been prepared to uphold any of them,” said the president of the court, Mr Justice George Birmingham.
“We have asked ourselves whether anything we have heard during the course of the appeal hearing or anything we have read has caused us to have doubts as to the safety of the verdict or the fairness of the trial.
“We have concluded that is not the case and we therefore have to dismiss the appeal against the conviction.”
The court delivered its decision in a ruling running to over 100 pages and Mr Justice Birmingham spent just under an hour summarising its findings.
Much of the appeal focused on decisions by the trial judge, Ms Justice Eileen Creedon, to admit various pieces of evidence during the 2019 trial, which ran for 13 weeks and was the longest in the history of the State.
The prosecution case was that Quirke, of Breanshamore, Co Tipperary, murdered Mr Ryan, a part-time DJ known as ‘Mr Moonlight’, so he could rekindle an old affair with Mr Ryan’s girlfriend Mary Lowry.
Quirke’s legal team claimed much of what the jury heard was “tittle tattle” about “who looked crooked at who”, and that “mocking” and “prurient” questioning about his relationship with Ms Lowry in Garda interviews should not have gone before the jury.
One interview involved a comment by a garda that Quirke had “sex on demand and cash on demand” from Ms Lowry.
Mr Justice Birmingham, sitting with Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, said the trial judge had to conduct a careful balancing exercise to weigh up the probative value of certain evidence versus the potential for it to prejudice the jury.
He said the court was satisfied the general approach taken by Ms Justice Creedon was the correct one.
Mr Ryan’s family was not in court for the ruling, instead opting to watch it via video link.
The case against Quirke relied heavily on circumstantial evidence. No murder scene or weapon were ever found and there was no forensic evidence.
Mr Ryan disappeared on June 3, 2011 after spending the night at Ms Lowry’s home in Fawnagown, Co Tipperary. He was 52.
His body was discovered in a run-off tank on Ms Lowry’s farm, which Quirke had been renting, in April 2013.
The prosecution alleged the find was staged by Quirke as his lease was to be terminated and he was about to lose control of the land.
Ms Lowry, a widow, had previously been in a relationship with Quirke between 2008 and 2012. Quirke was married to her late husband Martin’s sister Imelda.
Some of the strongest objections advanced by the defence team during the trial were to the admissibility of evidence from Ms Lowry.
Quirke’s lawyers argued she had very limited direct evidence linking their client to the murder. They also claimed she gave inconsistent and unreliable testimony.
However, the appeal court said Quirke’s attitude towards her evidence was “an unrealistic one”.
“It doesn’t address the central significance of Ms Lowry to the investigation and then the trial. It is her evidence which provides context for the violent death of Mr Ryan. Her evidence is essential in determining the motive for the crime,” said Mr Justice Birmingham.
Another ground of appeal related to search warrants used to seize material, including a computer.
Gardaí would discover incriminating searches had been conducted on the computer regarding DNA and decomposition.
Quirke’s lawyers claimed there were errors in the warrant and that inadequate information was provided to the District Court judge who granted it.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the absence of computers from the warrant was “sub-optimal”.
However, he said this was “not a fundamental error” and that the trial judge did not err in admitting the evidence.
He also ruled that the absence of the word “computers” from the warrant application did not deprive the District Court judge of the jurisdiction to issue the warrant.
Various criticisms were made of evidence gleaned from garda interviews.
But the appeal court said it was not persuaded there was anything inappropriate with how the trial judge dealt with these issues.
Mr Justice Birmingham also said the court was not prepared to uphold grounds of appeal centred on pathology evidence or an interview with a Tusla witness.
The court also rejected criticism from Quirke’s team of the handling by the trial judge of an application for her to direct the jury to return a verdict of not guilty on the basis there was no evidence the crime of murder had been committed by the accused.
The defence team submitted that if a view was taken that there was some evidence, then that evidence was of such a tenuous character that, even taken at its height, they couldn’t see a jury properly returning a verdict of guilty.
They claimed there was “no proof, only suspicion or speculation at most”.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the case facing the trial judge at the time of the application was “undoubtedly an unusual one”.
“The prosecution was not able to say precisely how the deceased met his death. They weren’t in a position to put a weapon in the hands of a suspect and they didn’t have direct evidence as to the time of death, though they undoubtedly had a theory,” he said.
“The case was described, with some justification [by the defence], as forensically barren.”
However, the appeal court president said there was undoubtedly evidence from which a jury could safely conclude that Mr Ryan met a violent death.
There was also, he said, “powerful evidence of motive”.
“The evidence of a romantic and emotional involvement and the difficulty in accepting the relationship had ended, coupled with the fact the appellant was under financial pressure and was financially dependant on Ms Lowry, becomes significant,” Mr Justice Birmingham said.
He said it was a circumstantial case where there were “many strands”.
“After careful consideration, we have concluded the multiple strands were such that a properly directed jury could conclude the various strands, when taken in conjunction, formed a very sturdy rope such that this was a case where a verdict of guilty could properly and safely be returned.”