Two men who played roles in the murder of dissident republican Peter Butterly have been jailed by the Special Criminal Court this morning.
Peter Butterly (aged 35) was chased and shot dead outside The Huntsman Inn, Gormanston, Co Meath, in view of students waiting for their school bus on the afternoon of March 6, 2013. The father-of-three died from gun-shot wounds to his neck and upper back.
Michael McDermott (aged 60) was today sentenced to four years in prison, with the final six months suspended while his co-accused Frank Murphy (aged 59) was jailed for three years with the final year suspended.
Mr McDermott, of Riverdale House, Garrymore, Ballinagh, Co Cavan, pleaded guilty in November last year to helping an unlawful organisation murder Mr Butterly.
Mr McDermott admitted to knowingly rendering assistance to an unlawful organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Óglaigh na hÉireann, 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.
In the same month, Frank Murphy of McDonagh Caravan Park, Triton Road, Bettystown, Co Meath, pleaded guilty to committing an act to impede the apprehension or prosecution of former accused-turned-State witness David Cullen, knowing or believing him to be guilty of possession of a firearm in suspicious circumstances within the State on March 6, 2013.
Both men had originally pleaded not guilty at the three-judge court to the murder of Mr Butterly and their trials had been underway since the beginning of October last year, the court heard.
Sentencing Mr McDermott this morning, Mr Justice Paul Coffey said the only assistance the court could be sure that the defendant was involved in was the recruiting and instructing of David Cullen in the disposal of the murder weapon.
Having regard to the gravity of the offence, the judge said it was at the lower end of the higher range and the maximum sentence was eight years in prison.
The appropriate starting point for this offence was six years imprisonment, indicated the judge. Although Mr McDermott's guilty plea was not offered at the earliest opportunity, it was timely and valuable, outlined Mr Justice Coffey. The court also took into account that Mr McDermott has no previous convictions and is a "loving and supporting" husband and father.
The judge said the court would reduce the headline sentence of six years to four years imprisonment. Following this, Mr Justice Coffey said the court would further suspend the last six months of the sentence on condition that McDermott entered a peace bond to be of good behaviour for a period of four years.
Mr Justice Coffey, sitting with Judge Martin Nolan and Judge James Faughnan, sentenced Mr McDermott to four years imprisonment with the final six months suspended, backdated to October 12, 2018, to take into account time spent in custody.
Referring to Frank Murphy, Mr Justice Coffey said the maximum sentence for impeding the apprehension or prosecution of a person was seven years in prison.
The judge said Mr Murphy had driven to Gormanston College with the intention of picking up David Cullen but he [Cullen] was almost instantaneously apprehended by gardaí. There was unchallenged evidence that, on the day after the shooting, Mr Murphy attended a meeting that was covertly recorded by gardaí, the judge said.
The court said the starting point for this offence was four-and-a-half years in prison.
The mitigating factors in Mr Murphy’s case were that he has no previous convictions and has suffered from failing health in recent years. Mr Justice Coffey said that the defendant was also prepared to give an undertaking to the non-jury court not to associate with anyone in an unlawful organisation nor with anyone charged or already convicted by the Special Criminal Court.
On account of this, the court reduced Mr Murphy’s sentence from four-and-a-half years to three years.
Mr Justice Coffey said the court would further suspend the final year of Mr Murphy’s sentence if he entered a peace bond to be of good behaviour for a period of three years.
The three-judge panel sentenced Mr Murphy to three years imprisonment with the final year suspended, backdated to November 14, 2018, to take into account time already spent in custody.
Following sentencing, the two men gave little reaction before they were led away by prison officers.
David Cullen was originally charged with the murder of Peter Butterly, 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 and a nolle prosequi – a decision not to proceed – was entered on the count of murder and he turned State witness. Cullen was sentenced to seven years in prison, with three-and-a-half years suspended, for possession of the firearm in July 2014.
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.
'Gardaí arrived on the scene almost immediately after the killing took place'
At last month’s sentence hearing on March 11, Detective Garda Dermot Morris, who was involved in the garda investigation into Mr Butterly’s death, summarised the facts of the case.
Det. Garda Morris told prosecuting counsel Paul O’Higgins SC that Mr Butterly drove into The Huntsman Inn car park between 1.50pm and 2pm on March 6, 2013, after which a silver Toyota Corolla car, occupied by Dean Evans and Edward McGrath arrived.
Det. Garda Morris agreed with the barrister 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 said that the plan was that Cullen would 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 this 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 Mr 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 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 Mr Murphy, Mr O’Higgins said the evidence was that Mr 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 [Cullen] disposed of the gun.
The court also heard there was a phone call between phones belonging to Mr Cullen and Mr Murphy at 1.18pm on the day of the shooting but that it “didn’t connect”.
Mr O’Higgins said that a meeting took place at the KFC outlet of Charlestown Shopping Centre on the day after the shooting, which involved a total of six people, including Kevin Braney and Frank Murphy.
Counsel said 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.