Two men whose convictions were overturned for the “savage” murder of a grandfather were not in a “joint venture” to kill, but behaved in a “reprehensible” manner in a later attempt to burn the body of the deceased and get rid of a baseball. bat used in the attack, the Court of Appeal ruled.
In a written judgment handed down Wednesday, the three-judge court found there was no evidence of any plan by the two men, James Davy and Matthew Cummins, to assassinate Thomas ‘Toddy’ Dooley, 64.
The two, who have been in prison for nearly five years, had their verdicts substituted by the court, which replaced them with convictions for assisting an offender.
Mr. Dooley received eight blows to the head, which shattered his skull, disfigured his face and left bone fragments lodged in his brain. Two blows to his chest had fractured three ribs. His attackers also tried to set him on fire after his death.
Matthew Cummins (27), of Churchview Heights, Edenderry, Co Offaly and his co-accused Seán Davy, (26), of Clonmullen Drive, Edenderry, and James Davy (30), of Thornhill Meadows, Celbridge, Co Kildare, had denied the murder of Mr. Dooley at the Sr. Senan court in Edenderry on February 12, 2014.
However, a unanimous jury found every man guilty of murder following a trial in the Central Criminal Court in 2016.
Trial judge Judge Margaret Heneghan said the murder was a “brutal and pointless attack on this helpless elderly man” before sentencing them to life in prison on October 10, 2016.
In a judgment on Wednesday, Judge Isobel Kennedy wrote that while it was certain that the three men knew that James Davy was in possession of the baseball bat, “we think it is less important and less sinister when it is. consider in the context of the evidence “.
During the trial, the jury learned that James Davy was carrying a baseball bat which he said he needed for protection as he was beaten the last time he came to Edenderry.
“The baseball bat was in the possession of James Davy and was visible in stages throughout the evening in question, this is not the position on the evidence that it was retrieved just before or for the purpose of being return to the deceased’s home.
“Under these circumstances, was there any evidence from which the jury could infer that Matthew Cummins and James Davy realized or anticipated that Sean Davy might act as he did? We think not,” he said. she declared.
I drank with the intruders
The trial heard that the three men entered Mr. Dooley’s home through a window around 5:30 a.m. on a cold and snowy morning. Matthew Cummins had been to Mr. Dooley’s house before and knew him as a nice man who always said hello.
Cummins climbed up through a window, then opened another window to let the other two in. Mr Dooley, who was described as “gentle” by a witness from Garda, used to have young visitors at irregular times and it appears he did not object. He sat down in his chair, opened a can of Budweiser, and drank with the intruders.
The three men drank with Mr. Dooley for some time, but at one point he was beaten to death and attempts were made to set his body on fire. The state had argued that the three men were also guilty and were involved in a “joint venture” to assassinate Mr. Dooley.
Madam Justice Kennedy said that “the manner of entry is not as grim as it might ordinarily be, in the sense that it must also be considered in the context of the circumstances. It appears from the evidence evidence that young people entered Mr. Dooley’s house to socialize and used the window as a means of entry ”.
The three men gave different accounts of what happened in the house. Matthew Cummins claimed that “out of the blue” Seán Davy came up behind the 64-year-old and hit him on the back of the head with the bat, before stepping around the chair to continue the beating front.
Seán Davy claimed that James Davy was responsible for most of the blows and that he himself hit Dooley once, but “not with full force”. James Davy denied reaching out to Mr. Dooley, claiming Seán Davy had beaten him with the bat and Matthew Cummins kicked Mr. Dooley but not with much force.
Seán Davey failed to have his conviction overturned in 2018. He had argued that he should have been tried separately rather than jointly with his co-defendants. However, the Court of Appeal concluded that there were compelling arguments in favor of putting the three on trial.
Caroline Biggs SC, for Cummins, had argued that at no point during the trial had the DPP “pinned its colors to the mast” to say whether it was a matter of joint venture or complicity. .
“It was just throwing enough mud on this case and it’s going to stick,” she suggested. She also argued that the judge should have broken the indictment.
Ms Biggs had argued that her case had not been properly submitted to the jury by the judge, and that the law regarding joint ventures was also not properly explained.
Madam Justice Kennedy said that it is essential that there is proof of an agreement before there can be a joint venture.
She said the court could not agree with the DPP’s assessment that the entry through the window and the introduction of the baseball bat along with other factors made it clear that there was a tacit agreement to inflict serious harm on the deceased and that there was therefore evidence of a Joint Undertaking.
Speaking on any evidence of the three men’s joint venture, Madam Justice Kennedy said: “The conduct of James Davy and Matthew Cummins following the murder of Mr. Dooley was reprehensible. The efforts to burn the body, the theft of property, and the disposal of the offending items are all deeply unpleasant. “
Lack of evidence
She continued, “However, while these factors can certainly be taken into account in inferring the existence of an agreement, they are not determinative. If the circumstances regarding possession of the baseball bat and entry into the house were different, so the conduct in the consequences would certainly be additional factors that would give weight to the existence of an agreement and the actions taken in view of that agreement and in view of this agreement. not the evidence in this case.
“We are in agreement with the arguments put forward on the part of each appellant. There was simply an absence of evidence from which the jury could infer the existence of an agreement at first instance,” Ms. Judge Kennedy.
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However, Justice Kennedy said the court rejected the appellants’ argument that the men should have been tried separately, saying the jury was entitled to hear the facts of the case “in their entirety.”
“We find that the trial judge erred in not ordering the jury to return a verdict of not guilty of murder. However, there is overwhelming evidence of guilt in relation to a violation of the Criminal Law Act 1997, ”she said.
“We will allow the appeal and overturn the murder conviction, but we will substitute a conviction for assisting an offender in accordance with the Criminal Law Act 1997.”
Madam Justice Kennedy said the case would be referred to the Central Criminal Court for conviction.