Defence counsel puts case to jury in farmer's murder trial

Lawyers for two brothers on trial for murdering a farmer, have told the jury that it is unreasonable that they should be asked by the prosecution to consider that a man “over a stray heifer turned into a killer or became involved in a plot to kill or cause serious harm”.

Daniel-Joseph Byrne (aged 39), and his younger brother Jason Byrne have been on trial at the Central Criminal Court for the past three weeks, accused of killing Edward Dempsey, following a row regarding a stray heifer.

The brothers, both of Hammer Lane, Borness in Co Laois have denied murdering the 49-year-old, who died in Portlaoise Hospital 10 months after the incident on December 18, 2006.

The prosecution is arguing that the blow struck by DJ Byrne to Mr Dempsey's head that day was the ultimate cause of his death in October 2007.

This is supported by medical evidence from the assistant state pathologist, Dr Declan Gilson, who told the jury the farmer's head injury was a “substantial cause” of death.

The prosecution also argues that the two brothers “were in a concerted plan to set up Mr Dempsey, lure him into the yard, get him isolated and set about attacking him with implements.”

Mr Dempsey, his brother John Dempsey and their 20-year-old farmhand had arrived at the yard in Hammer Lane to get back their heifer, after DJ Byrne had rang them to say the pound was on the way to remove the animal.

The prosecution says this phone call is evidence that DJ attempted to lure the Dempseys to his farm, so he and his brother could teach them a lesson and give Eddie Dempsey “a significant beating”.

In his direct evidence to the trial, DJ Byrne explained that he rang the pound because he didn't want the Dempseys on his land, and did not want any conflict with them.

There had been numerous incidents over the years between the two families, including incidents involving cattle breaking in, and Mr Dempsey allegedly insulting DJ Byrne's daughter, who has Down's Syndrome.

DJ's defence counsel, Mr Paul O'Higgins SC told the jury it was “grossly improbable” that the brothers had intended to kill Mr Dempsey or cause him serious injury on the day.

He asked the jury to consider the fact that the row had taken place in broad daylight and DJ Byrne had hit Mr Dempsey in front of witnesses.

He also asked them to think about the fact that Byrne had been the first to ring an ambulance and Gardai in the aftermath of the incident.

The defence team accepts that DJ hit Mr Dempsey in the head with the handle of a shovel, but says he was acting in self-defence after the farmer shoved the gate in on top of him, knocking him off balance and then came at him with his fists closed.

“You can only find him guilty of murder if you find there is no self-defence and an intention to kill or cause serious harm” Mr O'Higgins said.

The defence team maintains that Jason Byrne (aged 33), was only carrying a hazel-stick and did not strike Mr Dempsey at all.

“Jason Byrne is not a murderer, he is not a killer, he is not cold-blooded nor was he involved in any coordinated plan to lure the Dempseys down to Hammer Lane” Byrne's defence counsel, Mr John Shortt SC told the jury.

He said that Jason had at all times admitted he had been carrying a stick, – when if he wanted to minimise his involvement, he could have said he never had a stick.

Mr Shortt also described the Gardaí's co-ordinated arrest of the Byrne brothers in the early morning of January 3rd, 2007 as “ reminiscent of a black watch swooping on some terrorist cell in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

He asked them to remember Jason Byrne's direct evidence that he was not given a chance to show gardaí the stick he was carrying that day, but a stick was taken by gardaí as evidence, which he was never asked to identify.

The jury is due to hear from Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy when the case resumes tomorrow.

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