Two men are to be sentenced for their roles in the murder of dissident Republican Peter Butterly, who was shot dead in a Meath car park six years ago in view of students waiting for their school bus.
Frank Murphy (aged 58), of McDonagh Caravan Park, Triton Road, Bettystown, Co Meath, pleaded guilty in November 2018 to committing an act to impede the apprehension or prosecution of David Cullen, knowing or believing him to be guilty of possession of a firearm in suspicious circumstances within the State on March 6, 2013.
In the same month Michael McDermott, (aged 60), of Riverdale House, Garrymore, Ballinagh, Co Cavan, pleaded guilty to helping an unlawful organisation murder Mr Butterly.
McDermott admitted to knowingly rendering assistance to an unlawful organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hEireann, otherwise the IRA, directly or indirectly, in the performance or furtherance of an unlawful object, to wit, the murder of Peter Butterly, at diverse locations within the State, between March 3 and March 6, 2013, both dates inclusive.
Murphy and McDermott’s sentence hearings took place at the Special Criminal Court this morning.
Mr Cullen was originally charged with the murder of Peter Butterly (aged 35), from Dunleer, Co Louth, who was shot outside The Huntsman Inn in Gormanston on the afternoon of March 6, 2013.
In July 2014, Cullen pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of a semi-automatic pistol at the Huntsman Inn on the day of the shooting.
His plea was accepted by the DPP, a nolle prosequi – a decision not to proceed – was entered on the count of murder and he turned State's witness. Cullen was sentenced to seven years in prison, with three-and-a-half years suspended, for possession of the firearm.
Four men - Kevin Braney (aged 44), of Glenshane Crescent, Tallaght, Dublin 24; Edward McGrath (aged 37), of Land Dale Lawns, Springfield, Tallaght; Sharif Kelly (aged 49), of Pinewood Green Road, Balbriggan and Dean Evans (aged 27), of Grange Park Rise, Raheny, Dublin - have all already received life sentences at the Special Criminal Court following convictions for Mr Butterly's murder.
This morning the non-jury court heard evidence from Detective Garda Dermot Morris, who was involved in the Garda investigation into Mr Butterly’s death.
Det. Garda Morris confirmed to Paul O’Higgins SC, for the DPP, that on March 6, 2013, Mr Butterly drove into The Hunstman Inn car park between around 1.50pm and 2pm, after which a silver Toyota Corolla car, occupied by Dean Evans and Edward McGrath, arrived.
Det. Garda Morris agreed that the Toyota Corolla pulled up in front of Mr Butterly’s car and a number of shots were fired from a pistol which killed Mr Butterly.
The garda also confirmed that the Toyota Corolla then left the car park and, as it travelled down Flemingstown Road, the gun used to kill Mr Butterly was thrown out the window of the car.
Mr O’Higgins said that the Toyota Corolla and the men in the car were later caught by gardaí, while the gun was picked up by David Cullen. Det. Garda Morris told the court that the plan was for Mr Cullen to bury the gun.
The court heard that Mr Cullen was later supposed to be picked up by Frank Murphy but Det. Garda Morris confirmed that the pick-up never happened as the gardaí apprehended Mr Cullen while he was on Flemingstown Road.
Mr O’Higgins told the court that subsequent investigations showed that Mr Cullen had been “recruited into the operation” on March 3, 2013, and this “recruitment” involved Sharif Kelly and Michael McDermott.
Mr O’Higgins said that on the morning of the killing, at 9.55am, McDermott rang David Cullen and they shared an 86-second phone call.
Det. Garda Morris confirmed that McDermott was arrested on April 8, 2013, and that he was held in custody and interviewed on April 8 and 9, 2013, before he was rearrested in 2014.
Mr O’Higgins SC put it to Det. Garda Morris that the re-arrest followed a “change of mind” by Mr Cullen “who by then made statements identifying his role and that of others on events from March 3 to 6, 2013”.
Det. Garda Morris said: “Yes, David Cullen gave us a witness statement.”
In respect of Murphy, Mr O’Higgins said the evidence was that Murphy was arrested at McDonagh’s caravan park on April 9, 2013, and while in custody, he admitted to owning a number of phones found at the caravan park.
Mr O’Higgins told the court that, after Mr Cullen’s arrest, it was discovered that Mr Cullen was, according to him, to have been collected by Frank Murphy from the scene, after he [Mr Cullen] disposed of the gun.
The court also heard there was a phone call between phones belong to Mr Cullen and Murphy at 1.18pm on the day of the shooting but that it “didn’t connect”.
Mr O’Higgins told the court that, on the day after the shooting, March 7, 2013, a meeting took place at the KFC outlet of Charlestown Shopping Centre which involved a total of six people, including Kevin Braney and Frank Murphy.
Counsel told the court that the meeting was recorded “in part” and while some of it “is not very clear”, what was recorded was “sufficient to indicate that a discussion took place between six people, including Frank Murphy, about the events of the previous day”.
Mr O’Higgins said “the discussion suggested some form of debriefing to discuss what had gone wrong the previous day” and “how the gardaí had arrived on the scene almost immediately after the killing took place”.
He added: “And I think the nature of the conversation was such as to suggest that those involved had inside knowledge of the circumstances of the killing and the apprehensions of those involved?”, Det Garda Morris agreed.
The court heard neither McDermott nor Murphy have previous convictions.
Det. Garda Morris said Murphy has a number of grown-up children and grandchildren and has lived alone in McDonagh’s caravan park since he separated from his wife. Hugh Hartnett SC, for Frank Murphy, also handed to the court a letter from the owner of the park where Murphy has lived for 15 years.
Mr Justice Paul Coffey, presiding, sitting with Judge Martin Nolan and Judge James Faughnan, were also given a letter from McDermott’s wife and a second letter from a GP.
A character reference for McDermott was also handed in from a previous employer which, the court heard, states McDermott is a “reliable, trustworthy person”.
Mr Justice Coffey, Mr Justice Nolan and Mr Justice Faughnan said they will sentence the two men on April 1 and remanded them both in custody.