Murder accused claims he acted in self defence
A MAN accused of murdering a farmer told a court yesterday he was "purely defending" himself when he hit out at the dead man.
Wearing a dark grey suit, Daniel-Joseph Byrne took the witness stand and told the jury that he was in his farmyard screaming "get out, get out" as Edward Dempsey came towards him with his fists closed.
'DJ' Byrne, a 39-year-old father of three, said he did not want any confrontation with the farmer that day, because over the years he had heard he was troublesome, and had read about him in the local papers.
DJ and his brother Jason Byrne, both of Hammer Lane, Borness, Mountmellick, Co Laois, have denied murdering the 49-year-old.
Mr Byrne said prior to the row over a heifer in December 2006, the only contact they had was the previous September, when he called the gardai after his phone line was cut by tractors going into Dempsey's field.
Mr Byrne recalled how his daughter, who has Down Syndrome, had been looking out through the window as he talked to gardai, when Mr Dempsey pointed at her saying "there's a dirty cretin in there."
The next contact he had with Mr Dempsey was on December 18, when he got a phone call telling him the farmer's cattle were in with his herd.
Mr Byrne said he was concerned because he had received letters from the Department of Agriculture informing him the Dempseys' cattle had TB.
He rang the Dempseys to inform them the pound was coming to remove their animal.
Within minutes, the Dempseys' jeep and a trailer was reversed up to his farmyard gate, Mr Byrne said, and Eddie Dempsey got out saying: "I'll sort this out."
Mr Byrne said he told the farmer "you're not wanted in here, this is private property", but Mr Dempsey pulled on the gate saying " I'm f***ing going in there and no one's going to f***ing stop me."
Mr Byrne said Mr Dempsey called him and his brother "bastards" and told him "I can see the dirty, bad breeding in your eyes." Mr Dempsey pushed the gate in on him, and Mr Byrne said he fell backwards.
"I was losing my footing, (he) was coming at me. I hit him on the right knee area . . . he kept coming. I could see two fists and a man towering over me."
Byrne told the jury he was afraid, and swung a wooden stick connecting with Mr Dempsey, causing him to fall to the ground.
Lawyers for the prosecution argue that the head injury Mr Dempsey sustained was the ultimate cause of his death 10 months later, in October 2007, in Portlaoise hospital.
When asked by his defence lawyer, Mr Paul O'Higgins SC why he hit out at Mr Dempsey, DJ Byrne replied: "I was purely defending myself."
Byrne said he didn't know where he had hit Mr Dempsey, until later that night when gardai informed him the farmer had a head injury.
The case resumes on Monday before the jury of 10 men and two women.