Detectives deny offers to drop murder charge against accused man

Detectives investigating the shooting of dissident republican Peter Butterly have denied that offers to drop a murder charge were made to an accused man who turned prosecution witness before he gave a statement about the case.

Mr Butterly (aged 35) was shot dead outside The Huntsman Inn, Gormanston, Co Meath on March 6th, 2013.

Edward McGrath (aged 35), of Land Dale Lawns, Springfield, Tallaght and Sharif Kelly (aged 46), of Pinewood Green Road, Balbriggan have pleaded not guilty at the Special Criminal Court to the alleged murder.

Mr McGrath has also pleaded not guilty to firearms offences on the same occasion.

A third accused, Dean Evans (aged 24), of Grange Park Rise, Raheny, Dublin, failed to turn up for the trial, and has not been located by the gardaí.

The non-jury court decided to proceed with his two co-accused in Mr Evans’s absence.

It is the second trial of Mr McGrath and Mr Kelly. The original trial collapsed after 55 days in January, 2015, and a retrial was ordered.

The accused men's barristers are challenging the admissibility of the evidence of state witness David Cullen, who was also originally accused of the murder.

Giollaíosa Ó'Lideadha SC, defending Mr Kelly, has suggested to the court that Cullen and the DPP had made a deal to drop the murder charge before the witness gave his statement to gardaí.

Today, Detective Chief Superintendent Tom Maguire, of the Special Detective Unit, told prosecuting counsel Alex Owens SC that on June 6, 2014, he received a phone call from Cullen's solicitor, who said that his client wanted to come forward and make a statement about the Butterly case.

It was expected that later that month the four men would go on trial for the alleged murder, the court heard.

Chief Supt Maguire said that he contacted Detective Supt Alf Martin, who was in charge of the investigation, and told him about the phone-call.

On June 12, the court heard, the two detectives met Cullen's solicitor at the Criminal Courts of Justice building in Dublin.

Chief Supt Maguire said that the solicitor told them his client was prepared to give evidence on the Butterly shooting, the murder of convicted drug trafficker Eamon Kelly and general matters related to IRA activities.

The court heard that at that time Cullen was in Portlaoise prison but after a "falling-out" with another inmate had been relocated to a different landing there.

Chief Supt Maguire told the court that Cullen's solicitor said his client was seeking immunity or indemnity from the murder charge, involvement with the Witness Protection Program and some financial assistance.

The chief supt said that "no commitment" was given to any of those demands.

"We said we would report the matter to our authorities," he added.

The two detectives met Cullen's solicitor again, on June 24, to confirm the then accused man's intentions.

They later went to DPP's office, the court heard, and briefed an officer there about the conversation with Cullen's solicitor.

In cross-examination, Mr O'Lideadha suggested the court could "draw inferences that there were undisclosed matters" in relation to Cullen's decision to become a prosecution witness.

Chief Supt Maguire said that decisions about any deal were "not made at [his] level".

Seeking clarification, presiding judge Mr Justice Tony Hunt asked the prosecution lawyers to provide for the court the specific date the DPP came to the conclusion to drop the murder charge.

The judge said the information will be "of assistance in trying to put this jigsaw together".

The court also heard evidence from Detective Sergeant Liam Archibald, who told prosecuting counsel Paul O'Higgins SC that he took a statement from Cullen at Midlands prison on June 27, 2014.

In cross-examination, Mr O'Lideadha put it to the detective that before the statement was made he had told Cullen he was not going to be prosecuted in the murder case.

"I did not say that," Det Sgt Archibald replied. "At no time did I suggest to him he was not going to be prosecuted for the murder or any other charge."

The barrister then referred to a meeting on June 26 at garda headquarters, attended by Det Sgt Archibald, Det Supt Martin and Chief Supt John Gilligan, head of the Witness Protection Program, as well as other gardaí.

Mr O'Lideadha suggested that at the meeting it was anticipated the murder charge would be dropped and Cullen would plead guilty to a lesser charge.

Det Sgt Archibald said that he "did not know at the time what had been discussed about dropping charges".

Later he said it was a "possibility" that dropping the murder charge was discussed but that he was "not aware of the specifics".

He denied the proposition that in both the first trial and the current trial "untruthful assertions" were made regarding how Cullen became a prosecution witness.

The evidence was heard as part of a voir dire or ‘trial within a trial’, and will help the court's three judges to decide on the admissibility of Cullen's evidence.

The trial continues before the non-jury court.


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