A Laois father-of-three has been cleared at the Central Criminal Court of murdering a cattle farmer in a row over a stray animal.
Daniel-Joseph ‘DJ’ Byrne (aged 39) had pleaded not guilty to murdering 49-year-old father Edward Dempsey on October 11, 2007.
Mr Dempsey died on that date, 10 months after being involved in a row with DJ Byrne at the Byrne farm on Hammer Lane, Borness, Co Laois.
DJ Byrne’s younger brother, Jason Byrne (aged 33), who had also been on trial for the murder, was acquitted on Wednesday by unanimous verdict. He too had denied the charge.
The jury of 10 men and two women reached its decision on DJ Byrne just after 4pm yesterday (Friday) after almost 11 hours of deliberations.
His wife, Geraldine Byrne, broke down in tears as the ‘not guilty’ verdict was read out and both Byrne brothers left the court free men.
Neither family wished to comment afterwards but a spokesperson for the Dempsey family said they were very distressed.
Jason had told the court that while he was present in the yard at the time of the row, he played no part in it, nor did he hit the farmer across the legs with the handle of a brush he said, as he'd been accused of doing.
The brothers, who work together as builder-contractors together, also have addresses side by side at Hammer Lane, Borness in Co Laois.
Eddie Dempsey, a substantial cattle farmer on the Laois/Offaly border, died in Portlaoise Hospital in October 2007, 10 months after the row.
The prosecution argued that the ultimate cause of his death was the blow to the head struck by DJ Byrne on December 18, 2006.
Extensive medical evidence in the case supported this argument, with medical experts saying the head injury was a “substantial” cause of death, and Mr Dempsey never properly regained consciousness after the incident.
DJ Byrne admitted to the jury in his evidence to the trial, that he hit Eddie Dempsey across the head with a wooden shovel handle on the day in question, but said he had been “purely defending” himself.
Mr Dempsey had arrived at the yard with his brother, John, to get back a heifer of theirs that had strayed onto the Byrne's land.
Byrne described for the jury how John shouted at Eddie Dempsey and encouraged him to go into the yard saying he couldn't be stopped.
He said the farmer had slammed the gate with his fists saying “I'm f**king going in there and no one's going to f**ing stop me.”
He said Mr Dempsey then pushed the gate in on top of him, knocking him backwards and into his brother, Jason who was also in the yard.
Byrne said Mr Dempsey shouted at them that there were “bastards” and “scum”, and was towering over him with his fists closed. He also recalled the farmer saying there was “bad, dirty breeding” in him, a comment he took to refer to his daughter who has Down's Syndrome.
Byrne said he hit the farmer with a shovel handle he had been using to separate cattle, as he continued to slip backwards and Eddie Dempsey continued to come towards him.
He said Eddie fell to the ground in a sitting position, and was then dragged out of the yard by John.
John Dempsey however described a very different version of events to the jury. He said DJ and Jason were smiling with their hands resting on sticks and invited his brother into the yard.
He said they looked like madmen, and once Eddie was inside, they turned on him and started beating him with sticks.
John Dempsey, who farmed with Eddie, said DJ Byrne hit his brother “full-force” across the head, while Jason Byrne hit him on the legs so hard he could hear the bone cracking.
However no medical evidence was found to support Jason's involvement.
DJ Byrne said he only realised he hd hurt the farmer when he heard him complaining of an injury to his head. He said he then rang an ambulance and the Gardaí.