Tuesday 17 September 2019

'Tragic case' of gay couple hinges on claims of abuse

Accused: Desmond Duffy (70) arrives at the Central Criminal Court during his trial this week. Photo: Collins Courts
Accused: Desmond Duffy (70) arrives at the Central Criminal Court during his trial this week. Photo: Collins Courts
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

The case of a pensioner accused of murdering his partner is about the "fundamental human right" of a person to "defend themselves from attack", his counsel has told a jury.

Closing statements have been heard in the trial of Desmond 'Des' Duffy (70).

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He has pleaded not guilty to the murder of the man he described as his "life partner" for over 36 years, Desmond 'Dessie' Sullivan (59), at their home at Somerville Park, Rathmines, Dublin 6, on May 23, 2016.

Mr Duffy wept silently in court as his barrister Caroline Biggs SC said he had been treated "with contempt" by Mr Sullivan for decades.

In one incident, he'd had bleach poured over his head, had milk and beer thrown at him, while on the day before the incident, Mr Sullivan had broken a cup over his head.

Mr Sullivan had engaged in "risk-taking behaviour", she claimed, to the point where Mr Duffy had been forced to leave his house and walk the streets of Dublin. "Who does that unless they're living in fear?" she questioned.

She later said anyone facing this scenario would hopefully have somewhere to go - but Mr Duffy had not. He had no family and no confidence.

"He's an easy target because he will take it and because he is a gentleman," she said.

He loved Des Sullivan - but the history of abuse had to be put before the jury, she told them, so that they would "understand his mindset".

Friends had come voluntarily before the court, saying "wonderful things" about Mr Duffy and describing him as "a gentleman", because "the truth has to be told", she said.

Witnesses had told the court of the abuse, with one woman describing how Mr Sullivan had punched Mr Duffy and screamed at him while the accused was driving.

Another described how the deceased ordered Mr Duffy to get down on his hands and knees to pick up dog food he had spilled. They also described how Mr Sullivan had danced at the funeral of Mr Duffy's brother.

Ms Biggs asked the jury to consider that the evidence of witnesses and State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy was consistent with what Mr Duffy said in Garda interviews and with bruising on the back of his hand which showed how he had tried to defend himself against an assault by Mr Sullivan that night.

The evidence was also consistent with his account of how he had used the fingers and thumb of his right hand to apply pressure to Mr Sullivan's neck. Mr Duffy's neighbours had heard him calling out for help "in desperation and fear" in the moments before Mr Sullivan died.

She said Mr Duffy was entitled to defend himself from an assault and if there is a reasonable possibility that he used no more force than was necessary, the jury must acquit.

If they believed he was acting in self-defence but used more force than was necessary, they should find him guilty of manslaughter.

Prosecution counsel Conor Devally SC told the jury the accused had said from the outset that he was acting in self-defence but said Mr Duffy had become angry.

"Taunted, angry, he has taken a stand. This is a new event - it cannot go on," he said. "He didn't push him away, he advanced and pushed him into an alcove." He said Mr Duffy had no bruising despite his claims of being punched in the head. He could have "easily walked away".

Judge Paul McDermott told the jury that elements of this case were "fundamentally tragic" but it could not be decided on grounds of "sympathy or empathy".

He said that if the prosecution had proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was not acting in self-defence, they must then consider whether Mr Duffy was provoked by Mr Sullivan's actions to the point where he suffered a sudden and temporary loss of self-control to such an extent that he was unable to prevent himself from committing the acts that led to Mr Sullivan's death.

If that is reasonably possible, the accused is not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter, he told them.

The trial continues.

Irish Independent

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