Sunday 22 April 2018

Murder accused who changed plea from 'not guilty' to 'guilty' now wants to change it back

Accused claims he was suffering from panic attacks at time of plea change

The scene of the murder of Thomas Horan in Ringsend, Dublin, in January 2014
The scene of the murder of Thomas Horan in Ringsend, Dublin, in January 2014

Natasha Reid

A judge has been told that he should not have allowed a murder accused to change his plea from not guilty to guilty because he was suffering from panic attacks at the time.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt was hearing an application from the 28-year-old, who now wants to change his plea back to not guilty to murdering a ‘mentally challenged’ man.

Kenneth Cummins of Ringsend Park in Dublin had pleaded not guilty to murdering Thomas Horan (63) at Cambridge Court, Ringsend on January 6, 2014. A post-mortem examination showed that he had head, neck and chest injuries consistent with a severe beating.

Mr Cummins went on trial at the Central Criminal Court last year, but four weeks into his trial he changed his plea to guilty and Mr Justice Hunt dismissed his jury.

His sister, Sabrina Cummins, was handed down a life sentence for the murder of Thomas Horan a week later.

Mr Cummins was back before the judge yesterday with an application to withdraw his guilty plea.

His barrister, Pauline Walley SC, said that it was a legal issue as to whether the plea should have been taken that afternoon or put off to the next morning. She said that the circumstances for the application to succeed had to be exceptional and that they were.

She noted that the judge was already charging the jury when her client had changed his plea and that his legal team had informed him that a manslaughter verdict was a possibility.

However, contrary to legal advice, Mr Cummins had said that he ‘wanted to get it over with and get out of here’.

She said that Mr Cummins had also been complaining of panic attacks, stress and a lack of medical attention at the time and that this was known to the court.

“He was repeatedly asked to leave it to the next day,” recalled the judge, noting that Mr Cummins had insisted with the help of ‘salty language’ on doing it there and then.

“He was blowing in and out of a paper bag,” said Ms Walley.

“No. He had it in his hand,” replied Justice Hunt.

He added that Mr Cummins had been asked to sleep on it but, on five occasions, had declined.

“Is it my job to act as a nursing maid?” he asked.

“It’s your job to have a fair trial,” replied the barrister.

A consultant forensic psychiatrist testified that Mr Cummins had told a doctor that he had been very upset the next morning when he was not being brought to court, saying that he had no recollection of the day before. Dr Paul O’Connell said that he had also reported hearing the deceased man’s voice.

He had reported that he had started having panic attacks on the first day of the trial and that he had associated them with being in a cell on his own all day without air.

The doctor gave evidence of Mr Cummins’s deprived childhood during which he lived in more than a dozen foster homes and attended several schools.

Asked later about his change of plea, he had said that ‘he had done life outside’, thought that he would die young and that his quality of life would be better in prison.

Dr O’Connell will continue giving his evidence when the hearing continues next week.

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