Potential jurors in the trial of a man accused of shooting publican Charlie Chawke should have been excluded if they were supporters of Fianna Fáil, the Court of Criminal Appeal was told today.
The three-judge appeal court was hearing arguments made by Frank Ward, who is attempting to overturn his conviction on charges arising out of a robbery at Chawke’s pub, The Goat Grill, Goatstown, South Dublin on October 6, 2003.
Ward was jailed for life by the Dublin Circuit Court in 2007, for five offences including intentionally causing serious harm to Charlie Chawke, the robbery of almost €50,000 and the possession of a shotgun with the intention to commit robbery.
The 55-year-old, formerly of Knockmore Avenue, Tallaght, pleaded guilty to the charges on the second day of his trial.
Mr Chawke’s right leg had to be amputated above the knee after he was shot “at close range” during the robbery.
His co-accused, Larry Cummins, was convicted in 2006 and jailed for 13 years for his part in the crime. He subsequently died in prison, the court heard yesterday.
Ward, who defended himself in the appeal, said Fianna Fáil supporters would have been “prejudiced” against him because of Mr Chawke’s relationship with the party’s former leader Bertie Ahern.
Mr Ward told the court, “in 2007” he was “never going to get a fair trial”, and that potential jurors should have been “asked” their “political views”, and then “excused themselves” if they supported Fianna Fáil.
Among the more than 20 other grounds argued by Ward today was that he was “coerced” into pleading guilty to the offences. He said he was suffering panic attacks at the time and pleaded “to bring to an end what was happening”.
The father of three said his “ability to defend” himself at the trial was “impaired” by a “change” in his medication. The court heard the convicted robber had been taking “tranquillisers”, sleeping tablets and medication for diabetes.
Dressed in a white shirt, beige trousers and trainers, Ward was allowed to argue his case from the front bench of the court which is generally reserved for Senior Counsel.
Ward said he didn’t believe he was ever “lawfully charged” with the offences for which he was convicted and that as a result his “constitutional right to liberty” had not been “guaranteed”. Asked by the appeal court why this point was not raised with the trial judge, Ward said it was due to “total ignorance” at the time. The court said he “couldn’t play ducks and drakes with the system” and that if he wanted to defend himself, these points had to be raised by the trial judge at the time
Ward also argued that jury lists containing the details of potential jurors were “taken back” from him. The CCA said these were “always” taken back to prevent information from being passed on and jury members being “threatened”. The court added it was “unfortunate” the reasons for this were not explained to Mr Ward.
The Director of Public Prosecutions opposed today’s appeal.
Rebutting claims by Ward that he “was coerced” into pleading guilty, Counsel for the State, Mr Paddy McCarthy SC, argued the man had pleaded in circumstances where he was “caught red handed” and had said of his trial, “this is going nowhere”.
The court also heard the Electoral Act of 1990 prohibited potential jurors from being asked “who they voted for” in Dáil elections.
Lawyers for the State said Ward made the choice to act on his own behalf and that he must deal with the consequences.
Reserving its decision yesterday, the CCA said it was “important it understands everything” involved in the case, as a “great deal of papers” and “a significant number of grounds” had been put before it.
Judge Finnegan said Ward “made a good fist” of his appeal and added that he hoped judgement on the matter could be delivered in the new legal term in October.