Murder conviction is upheld by court
A man jailed for life for a murder he committed while on temporary release from prison has had his conviction upheld by the Court of Appeal.
James Connors (30), of Rosemount, Drinagh, had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Jason Ryan (27), at Hollyville Heights in Wexford on January 25 2012.
A Central Criminal Court jury found Connors guilty of murder by a 10-2 majority and he given the mandatory life sentence by Ms Justice Margaret Heneghan on December 17, 2015.
Connors had sought to appeal his conviction on a number of grounds including the admission or certain evidence, the question of the extension of his period of detention, a ground related to the judge's charge and that the verdict of murder was 'perverse'.
Dismissing his appeal on all grounds last Wednesday, Mr Justice George Birmingham said the question of whether Connors was initiating a physical confrontation some weeks before the fatal incident was of considerable significance.
Together with the fact that he was prepared to use a knife and inflict wounds was also of significance and 'properly admitted into evidence'.
Furthermore, the judge's charge was 'careful, comprehensive and balanced'.
Finally, Mr Justice Birmingham said the court accepted that the case was 'finely balanced' but it was quintessentially a case for the jury to consider.
The findings of fact in this case were, by virtue of the Constitution, a matter for the jury and the jury alone.
Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice Alan Mahon, said the court would dismiss the appeal.
Connors' barrister, Michael Delaney SC, told the Court of Appeal that at an early stage of the case, the defence made an admission to the effect that Connors had been on temporary release over Christmas 2011, that he failed to return at the end of that period and was unlawfully at large when he was arrested.
Mr Delaney said it is highly undesirable that a jury would know an accused has been in custody but it was inevitable that it would emerge at some stage.
That didn't excuse the prosecution of the obligation to limit further prejudicial material entering the case, Mr Delaney said. 'It was now open season on the character of the accused' and that had a bearing on the run of the trial, counsel said.
Mr Delaney said prejudicial material came from the evidence of Samantha Hore, Connors' ex-girlfriend and the then girlfriend of the deceased, who recounted an altercation that took place between Connors and Mr Ryan three weeks before the fatal incident.
She described Connors approaching them and the men began to 'box each other'. The incident came to an end and it subsequently became apparent that Mr Ryan had suffered superficial knife wounds.
Mr Delaney said the evidence didn't establish any malicious intent because Ms Hore couldn't say who started the fight but the jury were told that Connors was going around with a knife weeks before the killing.
Evidence of a phone call from Connors to Ms Hore while he was in prison three years before the events in question further prejudiced the defence, Mr Delaney said.
'When I get out,' Connors told her, he would 'get' whoever she was with at the time, the jury heard.
It was remote in time and didn't relate to any particular individual because Ms Hore wasn't seeing anybody at the time, counsel submitted.
Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Gerard Clarke SC, said this was a 'simple case'.
Connors had indicated to Ms Hore what he would do to anyone 'she took up with' when he got out of prison, Mr Clarke said, and he set about to do that.
It was a general threat that if she took up with anybody Connors would kill him, Mr Clarke said.
Counsel submitted that the alleged prejudicial material was relevant to motive, a ground under which misconduct evidence could be admitted.