Garda killer denied release after 30 years behind bars

A man who “assassinated a Garda sergeant by shooting him in cold blood” has been refused temporary release and entry to a pre-release programme because of the nature of his crime, the High Court has heard.

Michael McHugh has spent decades behind bars after being found guilty of the murder of Sgt Patrick Morrissey following an armed robbery in 1985.

He had initially been sentenced to death in December of that year.

The sentence was commuted to 40 years’ penal servitude by the then president Patrick Hillery, only days before his appointment with the hangman.

McHugh, currently incarcerated at Portlaoise Prison, has brought a number of High Court challenges against the State arising out of his continued detention.

He seeks an order quashing the minister’s “unfair and unreasonable” refusal on July 30 last to grant him temporary release and inclusion on a pre-release programme. The State opposed the application.

The case returned before the High Court yesterday when McHugh’s lawyers asked Mr Justice Max Barrett for an order compelling the State to provide him with discovery of a number of documents he claimed were relevant to his action.

They sought all documents relating to his applications, including all material notes and memos considered by the minister when making the decision to turn down his requests.

McHugh’s counsel Micheál Ó Higgins SC, who appeared with barrister Keith Spencer, said there was a lack of transparency and “a certain opaqueness” from the state parties in relation to his client’s applications.

He said McHugh believed he was being singled out by the authorities.

Mr Ó Higgins said McHugh was not allowed out even on compassionate grounds to attend family funerals.

It appeared to his client that the state parties were determined that he would spend every single day of his sentence in custody.

He said that while McHugh’s crime was an awful one, other prisoners who had spent lengthy periods in prison for similar crimes, had been included in the programme or have been granted temporary release.

McHugh had also expressed a concern that bodies representing gardaí had made representations in regard to his applications for temporary release and inclusion on the programme.

The State, represented by barrister Paul Anthony McDermott, said McHugh’s applications had been turned down by the minister on two grounds — firstly because of the serious nature of his crime, when he “assassinated Sgt Morrissey in cold blood,” and because he had not engaged in any therapeutic assessments in the prison.

McHugh had not offered any insight into his actions and he had not given any reassurances that he would not do the same thing again if released.

Judge Barrett said that, as the son of a Garda sergeant, he wanted to express his sympathies to the Morrissey family for their loss but ruled that McHugh was entitled to discovery of most of the materials he sought.

He was not entitled to discovery of any communications received from An Garda Síochána or Garda Representative bodies relating to McHugh’s applications.


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