Pathologist gives evidence at Kenneth O'Brien murder trial
Warning: The below court report contains distressing content
FATHER-of-one Kenneth O’Brien died from an “instantaneously fatal” gunshot wound to the head that caused extreme skull fractures and catastrophic brain injuries, the Central Criminal Court has heard.
The muzzle of the gun that was used was pressed against Mr O’Brien’s head when it was fired, a pathologist said.
Mr O'Brien's head and limbs were "neatly cut" off his torso but the dismemberment was "crude" and did not display any anatomical knowledge.
Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis was giving evidence this afternoon in the trial of Paul Wells.
Mr Wells (50), of Barnamore Park, Finglas, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr O’Brien (33) at that address between January 15 and 16, 2016.
He has admitted that he shot him dead but said it happened when they struggled during a row after Mr O’Brien turned up at his home with a gun.
The accused claimed Mr O’Brien had wanted to have his partner Eimear Dunne murdered and Mr Wells refused to kill her.
He said he "panicked" and chopped up the body in his back yard with a chainsaw, throwing his torso in a suitcase and his head and limbs bags into the Grand Canal in Co Kildare.
Giving evidence this morning, Dr Curtis said he carried out post-mortem examinations on Mr O’Brien’s torso which was found on January 16, 2016, then on the nine further body parts found in four shopping bags in the canal on January 25.
The examinations took place the following day at Naas General Hospital in each case.
He said he went to the scene at the Grand Canal on the morning of January 17 and entered the forensic tent on the towpath.
He saw a dark blue suitcase containing the torso of an adult that had been wrapped in clear plastic, he said.
Red straps had been used to secure fastenings. The case had a broken handle and was clean with only a small quantity of water in it, he said.
In the subsequent post-mortem exam, he said, he noted the head had been cut off at around the sixth vertebra. As well as the removal of the head and limbs, which were “neatly sawn across... consistent with the use of a power saw”, there were superficial injuries also related to the use of a power tool.
The body, he said, was relatively well preserved.
The second post-mortem took place on January 25, the day after the discovery of the other body parts.
The jury heard four shopping bags were found with the handles knotted and further plastic bags inside, bound with cable ties, containing body parts and house bricks.
One Tesco bag contained two sections of the left arm and two of the upper right arm. The second Tesco Finest bag contained the head.
A black Dunnes Stores canvas bag contained the left thigh and lower leg with the foot attached.
The fourth bag, a Dunnes Stores canvas bag contained the right thigh and right lower leg and foot.
One of the upper arms had a monochrome tattoo with letters, possibly the word “Ken,” the jury heard. The hands were not recovered.
In the head, Dr Curtis said, he found a bullet entrance wound on the back left of the skull, tracking "directly forwards and very slightly downwards."
The injury was a "contact entry wound," he said and "the muzzle of the weapon has been pressed against the head and all the products of discharge have gone into the head."
This caused the scalp to "balloon outward" and split he said. The skull bones were extensively shattered and the bullet rebounded back into the cranial cavity showing there was not enough energy left for it to exit.
The brain was "severely traumatised," he said.
The bullet and its jacket were still inside the head.
Dr Curtis said there were extreme skull fractures and catastrophic brain injuries "which would have proved instantaneously fatal."
The cause of death, he found, was a gunshot wound to the head.
It appeared the dismemberment had been done with a high-speed mechanical saw.
In cross examination, Dr Curtis agreed with Michael O’Higgins SC, defending, that there was "nothing to indicate the person dismembering the body displayed any anatomical knowledge" and "the cutting was crude."
"We are very near the end of the evidence in the case," Sean Gillane SC, prosecuting said.
Mr O’Brien’s aunt, Lorraine O’Brien, also gave evidence before the jury and Mr Justice Paul McDermott, saying they were two years apart and had a very close relationship growing up.
She told the court when Mr O’Brien returned from working in Australia in December 2015, he was “very happy… probably the happiest I had ever seen him.”
She said he seemed “very relaxed,” they were all delighted to have him home and he seemed delighted to be home.
Ms O’Brien said he had told her about the “financial difficulties” the Australian company he worked for was in and that he had heard the rumour there could be redundancies.
In cross-examination, Mr O’Higgins said Ms O’Brien had told gardai in her statement that her nephew had been a “very private person” and if he loaned you his phone he would put in the pass code and not tell you what it was; if he left his phone on the table he would put it face down.
“That is true,” she replied.
She had told gardai Mr O’Brien “fobbed me off about work” and she had asked him “what’s the big secret?”
Mr O'Brien did not make eye contact with her and told her “I’m not stuck for money,” she stated.
Mr O’Higgins said she had told gardai Mr O’Brien did not always treat his partner Eimear Dunne well, he was a “closed book” and it was a “one-sided relationship.”
“Eimear never hurt Ken, it was Ken that caused the trouble,” she told the jury.
The jury heard when he returned from Australia, Mr O’Brien had wanted to be kept on the books at the company he worked for. Ms O’Brien’s understanding was that he was holding out for some type of payment.
She was not aware he had told his boss in Australia he would be returning to work in January.
Mr O’Higgins put it to her she told gardai when she spoke to Mr O’Brien about Ms Dunne being left short of money on occasion, he told her it was “not a matter for you.”
“That was the gist of it, yeah,” she replied.
Jean O’Brien, the deceased’s sister, agreed she was aware her brother and Ms Dunne had split up at one stage. Mr O’Higgins said she had told gardai Mr O’Brien was “trying to get Eimear out of the house.”
Mr O’Higgins put it to her she had told gardai if Mr O’Brien did not introduce you to somebody it was because he did not want you to know who they were.
“He was my big brother, he was trying to protect me,” she told the jury.
She agreed she had heard a conversation between her brother and Paul Wells in which he spoke about dropping something off to a biker gang for his boss in Australia.
Mr Wells had told him to “stay out of it.”
Mr O’Higgins said she had told gardai her impression when her brother returned from Australia in December 2015 was “he seemed very distracted and always on the phone.”
“If I said that, it must have been my impression,” she said.
The trial continues.