Manslaughter verdict in Cahersiveen case

Blake Sweeney found not guilty of murder of Robert Elston in 2018. Sentencing due on October 14

Guilty of manslaughter: Blake Sweeney
Guilty of manslaughter: Blake Sweeney

David Raleigh

A Cahirsiveen man has been found not guilty of murder, but guilty of the manslaughter of a father of one, a year ago.

Blake Sweeney, (21), from Fertha Drive, Cahersiveen, had pleaded not guilty to murdering Robert Elston, (33), of Lisselton, in the Cahersiveen estate, on May 23, 2018.

The jury of seven men and five women took three hours and 36 minutes to deliver their unanimous verdict, at the Central Criminal Court, sitting in Limerick.

Mark Nicholas SC, defending, said in his closing speech to the jury that, on the night, Mr Sweeney was home "tucked up in bed, minding (his) own business" when the victim, carrying an axe, called to his house, and shouting he was going to kill him.

Mr Sweeney had had a brief romantic liaison with Mr Elston's ex-partner, and this may have been a source of tension between the accused and the victim, it was heard.

Mr Sweeney, with an address at Fertha Drive, told gardaí he stabbed the victim after Mr Elston struck him with a small axe.

The accused showed no emotion after the verdict was delivered.

Mr Nicholas had told the jury in his final speech he was not trying to "blacken" Mr Elston but argued the jury had to consider Mr Elston's alleged threats and behaviour. Mr Elston, from Lisselton, brought "trouble" to the accused's home, he said.

"The Sweeney's were in their own house, tucked up in bed, minding their own business, when trouble came to their door. What came that night was more than a bit of bother."

He said the victim had set fire to a car at the accused's home on the morning in question. "I'm not here to blacken (Mr Elston), I feel sorry for him, but there was a fire," Mr Nicholas added.

If the jury were to "loose sight" of the alleged behaviour and actions of the victim, that would be "to loose sight of the whole matter", Mr Nicholas said. "Bob (Mr Elston) was there with an axe. This is a significant threat."

Uncontested evidence was given that Mr Sweeney took a large knife from his mother's kitchen, went to a neighbour's house and stabbed Mr Elston shortly after the victim had visited his home with an axe.

Mr Sweeney acted in self-defence, and reacted to the alleged actions of the victim who had been "waving an axe roaring and shouting", Mr Nicholas said.

The court heard there was more than 300mls of alcohol in Mr Elston's blood at the time of his post mortem carried out on the same day he died.

Mr Nicholas said: "He (Mr Sweeney) grabs a knife - why? - because theres a guy outside his front door with an axe and he's drunk."

"He (Mr Sweeney) grabs a knife and says, (to his family) 'I'll protect ye'."

Mr Nicholas said Mr Sweeney's actions were "unwise" and "stupid", and added, "...but this isn't a Sunday afternoon chess game, it's real life".

"You have to get into the mind of (Mr Sweeney). He is reacting entirely to events put in place by Mr Elston," he argued. "He woke up to an emergency. It's fight or flight; it's reactive; that's the Blake you must judge."

Mr Nicholas told the jury: "You would have to have a heart of stone not to have sympathy for the victim and his family, but you must look at the evidence forensically and even coldly; sympathy has really nothing to do with how you go about it."

Earlier, Nicola Farrell, a friend of the victim, wept in court as she told how she desperately tried to stop him bleeding to death in her sitting room. She said she answered her door to Mr Sweeney, who then walked past her and stabbed Mr Elston "in the belly".

Mr Elston "fell to his knees" and "bled out" in front of her, she added.

Ms Farrell said she did not see an axe or anything else in Mr Elston's hands when he was stabbed by the accused.

Another witness, Sean McSherry, said Mr Elston took his axe and a bag of rubbish and told him he was going to "set fire" to Mr Sweeney's house.

The two witnesses accepted they had been drinking and smoking weed with the victim earlier on the night and on the morning in question.

Ms Farrell said she consumed a 750ml bottle of vodka, two cans of beer, and a few cannabis joints.

Mr Elston's brother held his head in his hands after and his partner wept as the jury delivered its verdict.

Mr Sweeney was remanded in custody to be sentenced at the Central Criminal Court in Dublin, on October 14 this year.