Murder trial jury told they can return majority verdict
The jury at the trial of a Wexford town man accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend's partner has been told they can return a majority verdict.
James Connors, aged 29, of Rosemount, Drinagh, has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Jason Ryan, aged 27, at Hollyville Heights on January 25, 2012.
After five hours of deliberations at the Central Criminal Court, Justice Margaret Heneghan told the jury that they can return a verdict of ten to two or eleven to one.
During her charge she told the jury that they can find Mr Connors not guilty, not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter or guilty of murder. The jury ended their deliberations at 4 p.m. yesterday (Monday) and will recommence todday (Tuesday).
The judge had told the jury that there are a number of issues for them to consider.
If they believed Mr Connors acted with reasonable force in self defence, she told them this should result in a verdict of not guilty.
If they think that he acted in self defence, but that he used unreasonable force, she said they should return a verdict of not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter.
If they are not satisfied that he acted in self defence, but that he intended to kill or cause serious harm to Mr Ryan, she said that would result in a verdict of guilty of murder.
Justice Heneghan reminded the jury, which began its deliberations on Friday, not to talk about the trial or their discussions with any third party.
Last week, the court was told that Mr Connors was on temporary release from Wheatfield Prison when the killing took place had been due to return on December 28, but failed to do so.
The accused set fire to a blood-stained hoodie he had been wearing on the night of the fatal fight, the Court heard.
Prosecution Counsel Mr Gerard Clarke called Detective Garda Alan Byrne of Wexford Garda Station. Detective Garda Byrne agreed with Mr Clarke that he interviewed Mr Connors at Wexford Garda Station on the afternoon of January 28, 2012.
The detective said that during the course of that interview Mr Connors said he had forgotten to wash the hoodie when he washed the rest of his clothes, following the fatal stabbing shortly after midnight on January 25.
Later on that night at Rosemount, in Drinagh, outside Wexford Town, he took the hoodie off. He added:
'I burned it. There was blood on it from wiping my face. I burned it to cinders.'
He said he used a lighter and a stick to set it on fire.
Detective Byrne also agreed that Mr Connors told him that he called Mr Ryan's girlfriend Samantha Hore at 2.12 a.m., about two hours after the stabbing.
Ms Hore had been Mr Connors's girlfriend for ten years before she started dating Mr Ryan. He said he called her to find out about Mr Ryan's condition. 'She just hung up on me,' he told the garda.
The detective asked Mr Connors if he had 'lured' Mr Ryan away from security cameras in Hollyville Heights so he could kill him. He answered: 'No I did not.'
He then asked him if he set out to kill Mr Ryan and he replied 'no I did not'.
He said that he called to Mr Ryan's home in Hollyville Heights that night to tell him to forget about their ongoing feud, which had begun when Mr Ryan started going out with Samantha Hore. He said he wanted to tell Mr Ryan that he had started going with someone else and 'to leave it off and forget about it'.
Mr Clarke also called Garda Brian Cummins of Wexford Garda Station. Garda Cummins agreed that he had interviewed Mr Connors earlier on January 28, 2012.
In that interview Garda Cummins agreed that he had put it to Mr Connors that he could have left the scene before an altercation began but made no attempt to do so.
He said that camera footage showed that Mr Connors called to the door of Mr Ryan's home and that Mr Ryan at first did not come to the door but spoke to him from the first floor of the building.
Mr Connors told gardai that at this point he saw Mr Ryan holding a bat and that he had a knife in his trousers so he 'tutted and walked away'. Garda Cummins put it to him that there was a 51 second gap between Mr Ryan standing at the first floor and then exiting his apartment. During that time he said Mr Connors walked slowly up the ramp and finished a small bottle of vodka he had been drinking.
'You did not choose to leave the area,' he said.
The fight that followed was not captured by CCTV but Mr Connors told Garda Cummins that Mr Ryan hit him on the head with the baton and that he pulled the knife from Mr Ryan's trousers and stabbed him with it.
During the interview, he said his memory of what followed the fight was hazy due to the blows he received to the head.
Garda Cummins put it to him that he escaped through his cousin's apartment in Hollyville Heights, jumped a wall on to John's Road where he called his then girlfriend to collect him. He washed himself and his clothes and got someone to collect his dole card and money.
'All this doesn't point to someone who was dazed,' said Garda Cummins.
A knife that was allegedly used to kill a man did not have the accused's DNA on it when examined by a forensic scientist, the Court heard.
Dr Stephen Clifford, a DNA expert at the State Forensic Science Laboratory, told prosecution counsel Gerard Clarke that he examined a knife and a baton that were found at the scene. He said they were given to him by gardai from Wexford Garda Station along with DNA swabs from Mr Connors and Mr Ryan.
Dr Clifford said the knife contained DNA which matched Mr Ryan's DNA. Two other samples were found but they did not match Mr Connors's DNA.
Speaking to Defence counsel Michael Delaney, Dr Clifford agreed that the longer a person holds on to an item, the more likely they are to transfer their DNA to that item.
The doctor also examined samples from the baton found at the scene. He said he took blood samples from the handle and middle of the baton that matched Mr Ryan's DNA.
He agreed with Mr Delaney that this blood could have come from Mr Ryan's hands after he touched his wounds. He said he detected two other DNA profiles on the baton but these were incomplete and therefore he was not able to make any judgement as to who they belonged to. He said none of the DNA found on the baton matched Mr Connors's DNA.
Mr Connors lured Mr Ryan to an area hidden from CCTV cameras and stabbed him with a kitchen knife, prosecution lawyers told his trial.
Prosecution Counsel Gerard Clarke gave his closing speech in the case. He told the jury that the evidence they have seen and heard shows that the accused man set out to kill Mr Ryan because he was going out with Mr Connors's ex-girlfriend, Samantha Hore.
He said that Mr Connors brought a knife with him and, using prior knowledge of CCTV cameras in the area, lured him to a blind spot and stabbed him five times.
Defence counsel Michael Delaney, in his summary, said Mr Connors acted in self-defence and that Mr Ryan was the aggressor, having launched an attack with a metal-studded baton.
Setting out the State's case Mr Clarke said that the evidence showed that James Connors rang the doorbell of Mr Ryan's home in Hollyville Heights shortly after midnight on January 25, 2012.
Mr Ryan shouted down to him from an upstairs window and then went back into his apartment to put on runners and get a baton that he kept for protection, Mr Clarke said.
During this time Mr Connors walked away from Mr Ryan's front door, up a ramp and into an area that is not covered by CCTV cameras.
Mr Clarke said that Mr Connors had told gardai during an interview on January 28, 2012 that he saw Mr Ryan carrying a baton and that he had a knife tucked into the waistband of his trousers when he came to the door.
Mr Clarke said CCTV footage that was shown to the jury, showed that by the time Mr Ryan came down to his front door Mr Connors was already too far away to see anything that Mr Ryan was carrying. He added:
'How could Chuck Connors have noticed at the door what Jason Ryan had with him. 'He could not possibly have met Jason Ryan face-to-face at the door but he, Chuck Connors, had that knife with him for the purpose of inflicting injury on Jason Ryan. Why did he bring it? Why would someone bring a knife to his former girlfriend's place?'
He added: 'The accused says he was hit on the head and somehow managed to grab the knife out of the waistband of Jason Ryan's trousers. He had that knife, he intended to use and he did use it.'
Mr Clarke also pointed to DNA evidence given by Dr Stephen Clifford of the Forensic Science laboratory.
Dr Clifford said that DNA from Ms Mary Connors was found on the handle of the knife. Mr Clarke said that Mr Connors had been at Ms Connors's house on January 24. In an interview with detectives he said that he got out of bed at Ms Connors's house at 6 p.m. on the 24th, had dinner and then went drinking at a house nearby.
Mr Clarke said:
'Mary Connors's DNA, we say, should convince you that the knife came from her house. How else would her DNA get on the knife? We say that Chuck Connors brought that knife with him.'
Defence counsel Michael Delaney told the jury that the prosecution could have asked Mary Connors, who gave evidence in court, to say if the knife belonged to her.
He said she was a co-operative and reliable witness who had done her best to aid the jury and that they should consider this omission by the prosecution when considering if the DNA evidence constituted proof beyond a reasonable doubt. He also questioned how Mr Connors could have concealed the long, brown-handled kitchen knife over the course of an evening when he met several other people, none of whom said they saw him with a knife. He also pointed out that Mr Connors's DNA was not found on the knife, adding:
'This is consistent with only transient contact with the knife.'
Mr Delaney also questioned the prosecution's portrayal of Mr Ryan's role in the confrontation that led to his death. He said: 'You may have gotten the impression that he left the apartment like an innocent lamb to the slaughter.'
He said that Mr Ryan could have remained in his apartment, that he chose to come outside and that he was carrying a mini baseball bat with eight steel studs in it. He said he went after the accused, not to protect himself or his girlfriend, but as an aggressor.
He pointed to the evidence of one neighbour, Catriona Purdy, who said she looked out her window and saw a man with a baton hit another man twice. He said this was ignored by the prosecution because it is an 'inconvenient truth'.
'There was a man, much bigger built, in a rage, attacking him with a metal studded baseball bat and struck him on the head and this man is intent on keeping on hitting him. If a knife is available to him, what choice does he have but to use it? What other way for him to get the better of Mr Ryan?'
'Self defence is central to this case,' he said, 'the accused man was subjected to an unlawful attack.'