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'Can I go?' - Big Des is cleared of murdering man he loved


Desmond Duffy walks out of the Criminal Court of Justice a free man after he was acquitted of murder. Photo: Tony Gavin

Desmond Duffy walks out of the Criminal Court of Justice a free man after he was acquitted of murder. Photo: Tony Gavin

Desmond Duffy walks out of the Criminal Court of Justice a free man after he was acquitted of murder. Photo: Tony Gavin

Dublin pensioner Desmond Duffy walked free from court yesterday after being found not guilty of murdering his "abusive" and "violent" partner, Desmond 'Dessie' Sullivan.

Mr Duffy (70) cried quietly and whispered "thank you" as the jury left the courtroom, having spent seven hours and 11 minutes deliberating after a nine-day trial.

He said from the outset that he was acting in self-defence after his partner of 36 years attacked him in the kitchen of their home.

At 4.46pm the jury returned with a verdict. Mr Justice Paul McDermott thanked the jurors and exempted them from further duty for 10 years.

He then turned to Mr Duffy and told him he was discharged.

Mr Duffy turned to his legal counsel and asked: "Can I go?"

Outside the Criminal Court of Justice, his supporters hugged him as he prepared to return home.


The court heard that Mr Duffy, referred to as 'Big Des' during the trial, called Garda Maurice Ward, who is married to a niece of Mr Sullivan (59), shortly after 10pm on May 23, 2016, to say there was "trouble" and could he come over urgently.

Gda Ward arrived about 30 minutes later and found the lifeless body of Mr Sullivan, referred to as 'Little Des' during the trial, in the kitchen.

He called emergency services but knew there was no point in trying resuscitation.

The accused took to the stand in his own defence during the trial, saying he was not there to blacken Mr Sullivan's name.

"You don't spend 36 years of your life with somebody you don't love. We had our problems but Dessie also had his good sides," Mr Duffy said.

He told his defence counsel Caroline Biggs SC that he was defending himself from an attack by his "abusive" and "violent" partner.

"I feel so sorry for his family, especially his mother who I was very close to, his sister and others but I'm still grieving, devastated and heartbroken by what happened," he said.

"I have lost my partner of 36 years and I will never, ever get over that.

"It was never my intention to hurt him or injure him."

Mr Duffy said he stayed with Mr Sullivan despite the abuse.

"I covered it up and I denied it. At the end of the day I did love the man," he said.

State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy said Mr Sullivan died from compression of the neck causing a lack of oxygen to the brain.

Mr Sullivan had hypertensive heart disease and a combination of alcohol and diazepam in his bloodstream, which may have contributed to his death, making him vulnerable to arrhythmia of the heart.

Prof Cassidy found evidence of tiny haemorrhages around the eyes, which was common in cases involving asphyxiation.

She said the haemorrhages showed that the airway was blocked for "some seconds".

Bruising around the Adam's apple was consistent with Mr Duffy's explanation that he used a pincer-like grip of the fingers and thumb of his right hand when he reached out to defend himself.

The trial heard from multiple witnesses that Mr Duffy had been the victim of domestic abuse for about three decades.

Anne Quinlan said she got a lift home from a wedding in Killiney in the mid-1980s with the two men and as Mr Duffy drove, Mr Sullivan started punching him in the face, head and upper body and screaming at him.


Carmel Savage, a close friend of both men, said Mr Sullivan could be nasty and wouldn't let Mr Duffy speak.

Melissa Farrell recalled seeing Mr Sullivan dancing at the crematorium on the morning of Mr Duffy's brother's funeral.

Later that day, Mr Sullivan dumped a basket of sausages and chips on Mr Duffy's head.

There were multiple other incidents and Mr Duffy said in evidence that he would sometimes stay in a local hotel to avoid the abuse or, if he didn't have enough money, would wander the streets.

On the night Mr Sullivan died both men had been drinking in Grace's Pub in Rathmines and came home shortly after 9pm.

Neighbours heard raised voices, with Katie Daffy, who knew both men, saying this occasion was different because Mr Duffy seemed to be arguing back. It sounded like he had "snapped", she said.

Mr Duffy said that when they got home, Mr Sullivan started punching him and pulling his hair.

Mr Duffy went to bed, hoping to defuse the situation, but Mr Sullivan followed him, pulled the bedclothes off and took Mr Duffy's credit card from his shirt pocket.

He taunted him, telling him: "F**k off, go stay in your f**king hotel now."

Mr Duffy went downstairs, to get his jacket, but Mr Sullivan told him he had hidden it.

The row continued, with Mr Sullivan punching Mr Duffy, who said he raised his arm to defend himself and pushed Mr Sullivan toward an alcove in the kitchen.

He said Mr Sullivan was pushing against him but then slid down the wall and fell on his side.

The prosecution argued that Mr Duffy was angry and had decided he wasn't going to take the abuse any more when he squeezed Mr Sullivan's neck.

Ms Biggs said her client acted in self-defence, and Mr Sullivan's heart disease, combined with alcohol and drug use, made him vulnerable.

Mr Justice McDermott told the jury that to find Mr Duffy guilty of murder the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that he intended to kill or cause serious injury to Mr Sullivan and that he was not acting in self-defence.

If he was acting in self-defence but used more force than was reasonably necessary, he would be guilty of manslaughter, he said.

If he was acting in self-defence and used no more force than a reasonable person would consider necessary, he told the jury to acquit.