Thursday 24 January 2019

Dundalk taxi driver murder trial hears of fatal stabbing

Man accused of murdering Martin Mulligan on trial at the central criminal court

Taxi driver, Martin Mulligan who was fatally stabbed in September 2015
Taxi driver, Martin Mulligan who was fatally stabbed in September 2015

A Dundalk father of two who was found dead near his taxi in the early hours of the morning had been beaten with a blunt object and stabbed in the leg and abdomen, a murder trial has heard.

24-year-old Joseph Hillen, who is on trial for murder, accepts that he stabbed the deceased but said he did it to protect himself.

Mr Hillen, of Glendesha Road, Forkhill, Co Armagh pleaded not guilty to the murder of Martin Mulligan (53) at Carnmore, Balriggan, Dundalk, Louth on September 28, 2015.

Opening the trial Mr. Patrick Treacy SC said the deceased, a married father of two now adult daughters, worked as a taxi driver and sometimes delivered coal and gas. On the night he died his last known movements were to drop four people to the Forkhill area at about 1.45am.

His body was found at 3:06am in the nearby townland of Balriggan by three women. His taxi was about 66 paces from where his body lay. An autopsy by Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis revealed two stab wounds and a number of injuries to his head, torso and arms. Dr Curtis will tell the jury that the stab wound to his abdomen, which was 22.5cm deep, severed an artery and killed him within 30 seconds. The wound to his leg also severed an artery and would have killed him within five minutes. The blunt force injuries to the rest of Mr Mulligan's body were inflicted with an object other than the one used to stab him.

Mr Treacy went on to tell that the jury that the accused man gave a number of voluntary interviews to gardai in July of this year. In those statements he said he was driving a Toyota Avensis that night which was involved in a chase with gardai following reports of someone spinning their tyres on a street in Dundalk. Gardai were unable to catch the Avensis but Mr Hillen, through his barrister Brendan Grehan SC, has accepted that he was the driver.

In his statements Mr Hillen said that he was in the Toyota when he thought he saw Mr Mulligan dumping rubbish in an area belonging to the accused man's friend and former employer. The owner of the land had previously complained to Louth County Council about illegal dumping at the site. The accused said he chased Mr Mulligan for a time before the taxi came to a halt and both Mr Hillen and Mr Mulligan got out. The accused said Mr Mulligan then gave him a 'closed fist punch to the face' and a 'wrestling match' followed. Another man who was with the accused, who cannot be identified, got into the taxi and drove it into a nearby gateway. He then took the keys to the taxi and threw them into a field. The accused said Mr Mulligan then went to his taxi and was 'rooting for something' before coming back to the Toyota and getting into the driver's seat. While Mr Mulligan was sitting there the other man came to the Avensis and took a sewer rod from the passenger side door and then used that to twice hit Mr Mulligan around the shoulders and head while Mr Mulligan was sitting in the car. Mr Treacy told the jury that one of the issues they would have to consider is whether it is credible that Mr Mulligan could have suffered the blunt force injuries identified by the pathologist if he was sitting in the front seat of a car.

Mr Hillen's statement went on to describe the deceased getting out of the Toyota 'in a rolling motion' and then Mr Hillen noticed he had a long, stainless steel, kitchen knife in his hand. Mr Hillen said he tried to grab it and cut the palm of his own left hand. In the struggle, he 'flipped the knife.' He said he was being struck on the head when he 'jabbed out' twice with the knife. He said he had no intention of killing him, that he was trying to protect himself and that he 'never meant to stab him above the belt,' before adding: 'It just happened so quickly.'

Mr Hillen said he took the knife and left the scene with the other man. When he found out two to four days later that Mr Mulligan was dead, he drove with the other man to an area near Victoria Lock on the Newry River and one of them threw the knife out the passenger side window. The knife has not been found.

Mr Treacy said to return a verdict of guilty the jury will have to be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Hillen was not acting in self defence. Mr Grehan said that his client accepts that he inflicted the two knife injuries that caused Mr Mulligan's death.

Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis further told the trial that an account given by the accused in which he said he was kneeling and using the knife with a 'backhanded' motion would account for the fatal injuries sustained by the deceased.

Dr Curtis told prosecuting counsel Patrick Treacy SC that he examined Mr Mulligan's body at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda on the day he died. He found three lacerations to the top of the head, caused by a blunt object. These injuries, he said, had not damaged the skull and there was no evidence of injury to the brain, although they could have caused concussion.

In voluntary statements given to gardai Mr Hillen said that his friend, who cannot be named, struck the deceased with a sewer rod before the stabbing. Dr Curtis said a sewer rod could account for the injuries to the head and he noted that the light weight of such an object could explain why the skin was lacerated but the skull was not injured.

Dr Curtis also identified two knife wounds as the cause of death. One knife wound to the lower abdomen went to a depth of 22.5cm and severed the abdominal aorta - the main artery in the body. The second stab wound went through the thigh slicing the quadriceps muscle and severing the femoral artery. He described it as a 'through and through wound' with the blade entering on the outside of the thigh and exiting on the inside of the leg. Either wound, he said, would have caused Mr Mulligan to bleed to death within minutes.

The other 30 injuries, he said, were minor and would suggest Mr Mulligan was involved in a struggle. He said one bruise to the chest could have been caused by a punch but added that this was speculation.

Dermot McGeough, a friend of Mr Hillen, told Mr Treacy that he was with the accused on the day before the stabbing. They drank some rum at Mr McGeough's house, went to a pub for about one hour and then Mr Hillen drove Mr McGeough back home. On the way they were chased by gardai but Mr Hillen got away. The witness said he wasn't happy about the garda chase because he feared everyone in the car would lose their licence.

Mr McGeough had known the accused for about three years before this incident and said he had a lot of time for him. Mr Hillen, he said, would often help him to clear rubbish that was regularly illegally dumped on his land.

The wife of a taxi driver who was stabbed to death while working in the early hours has denied that her husband kept a kitchen knife in his car.

The murder trial has previously heard that the accused told gardai that the deceased pulled a knife on him.

The deceased's widow Grainne Mulligan told prosecuting counsel Patrick Treacy SC that she met her husband when they were teenagers and they married in 1986 after dating for nine years. He worked as a coal delivery man and in 2000, for extra money, he started working as a taxi driver. They had two daughters who are now adults.

Her husband, she said, was concerned for his own safety and kept a bar on the floor of the taxi for protection. He also kept a small Swiss Army knife in the car. Under cross examination, she agreed with defence counsel Brendan Grehan SC that her husband was a 'formidable' man who would not back down in any situation. She was worried when he started working as a taxi driver that he might come to blows with anyone who tried to rob him or cheat him. She agreed that in a statement to gardai she said he could be 'thick and wouldn't back down in a confrontation'. He kept the bar, she said, as a weapon if he needed to use it.

Mr Grehan put it to her that in August of this year, before Mr Hillen told gardai that the deceased pulled a knife on him, she told gardai that her husband kept a small kitchen knife in his taxi which he used for picking his teeth. She accepted that she made another statement about two weeks later in which she said she had been mistaken and that her husband in fact kept the kitchen knife in his coal lorry, not the taxi.

Mr Grehan asked her if she changed her statement because she realised it would be helpful to the accused man as it supported his claim that it was the deceased who produced the knife. She replied: 'No. I didn't realise that. That wouldn't have entered my head.'

Under re-examination she told Mr Treacy that the knife she was referring to was a short knife she had previously used for peeling potatoes. She said it would have been about the length of one third of an A4 page.

Earlier the trial heard from Sergeant Michael Kermath of Dundalk Garda Station who told Mr Treacy that he was in Dundalk earlier on the night that Mr Mulligan died, when a member of the public gave him the registration number of a Toyota Avensis, driven by the accused, that had been spinning its tyres outside Ridley's nightclub.

When Sgt Kermath and his colleague Garda Damien Fanning saw the car they put on their blue lights and followed but the Avensis did not stop. Sgt Kermath said it sped erratically and dangerously through the town towards Marsh's Shopping Centre, broke two traffic lights and left the town. The patrol car followed until it became too dangerous and they believed they would not catch up before the border.

The jury of nine men and three women were then shown CCTV footage of the car spinning its tyres and speeding through the town.

During the trial on Friday, members of Martin Mulligan's family left the Central Criminal Court before a jury were shown the heavily blood-stained jumper and t-shirt worn by the taxi driver on the night he was killed.

Prosecuting counsel Patrick Treacy SC had warned that seeing the clothing could be distressing.

Holding up the clothing for the jury to see, Sandra McGrath of Forensic Science Ireland told Mr Treacy that she found heavy blood staining on the front and back of the jumper and t-shirt. She further pointed out a cut and tear at the V of the jumper's neck which she said is 19.5cm long. Mr Treacy, when he opened the trial earlier this week, said the cut in the neck would become 'very important evidence' for the jury to consider.

Ms McGrath further revealed that a glove found near the scene had DNA matching Mr Hillen on its inside and back. She examined 18 blood drops found at the scene leading to where Mr Mulligan's body was found. Two of them matched the accused man's DNA while the others matched that of Mr Mulligan. Mr Hillen's DNA was also found on the jumper worn by the deceased.

Detective Garda James Doherty said the accused was interviewed at Dundalk Garda Station on 23 May, 2016. He had been arrested on suspicion of the murder because of reports that his car was seen driving erratically on the night.

Det Gda Doherty agreed with Mr Treacy that the accused told gardai he didn't know Mr Mulligan and just heard about his death through Facebook.

The following day gardai used Sections 18 and 19 of the Criminal Justice Act 1984 which allows a court to draw inferences from an accused person's refusal or failure to answer certain questions. They then asked him to account for his DNA being found on the jumper and glove and his blood being on the ground near where the body lay. He replied, 'no comment' to each question. They asked him to account for his presence at the scene and he again replied, 'no comment'.

As of last Tuesday, the trial continues.

The Argus