Garda killer Noel Callan will walk free in under two years after a landmark judgment in the Supreme Court ruled he was eligible for remission on his 40-year sentence.
The Irish Prison Service (IPS) said Callan will be due for release in the first week of Jul 2015, after receiving the standard one-quarter remission off his sentence for the murder of Sgt Patrick Morrissey in 1985.
He will have served 30 years, with remission amounting to 10 years.
The five-judge Supreme Court said Callan was also eligible for the “possibility” of enhanced remission of one third.
However, a spokesman for the IPS said he would not get one-third remission, saying there had been only one such case ever. If he got one third he would be released immediately.
Callan, aged 50, was jailed in 1985 with co-accused Michael McHugh for the murder of Sgt Morrissey but their death sentences were later commuted by the President, on advice of the Government, to 40 years penal servitude.
Callan’s counsel Deirdre Murphy described as “hugely unfair and unwarranted” the State’s refusal to allow him remission when he was not directly involved in the shooting of Sgt Morrissey and when several others jailed for capital murder whose death sentences were commuted to 40 years were either freed or got temporary release.
Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman — with whom the other judges agreed — described as “nonsense” contradictory arguments advanced by the State in the High Court to support its claims Callan was not entitled to remission. The court’s attitude to some of the arguments advanced was one of “grave distaste”.
Having abandoned several arguments, including relying on a 40-year-old Supreme Court decision the State had ignored for 15 years, the State had ultimately argued before the Supreme Court that Callan was not serving a “sentence” at all but rather “a commutation”.
The State previously argued commutation was granted on the basis of no remission but, during the High Court hearing, it for the first time produced documents dating back to 1986, indicating no such condition was attached.
It was clear lawyers for the State were unaware until then of that document and its production led to a “complete volte face” in the State’s arguments, said Mr Justice Hardiman.
The judge said the shooting of Sgt Morrissey was “an act of cold-blooded murder”. He was first shot in the leg by McHugh who afterwards walked up to him and shot him in the head.
The judge noted Callan’s claim he played no direct part in the shooting was not contradicted. He had later given perjured evidence he had no involvement in the robbery but, while that could not be excused, it could be explained by the fact he was put on a wing in Portlaoise Prison with McHugh and members of the INLA, the judge said.
Callan had claimed McHugh had threatened him against doing anything that would prejudice McHugh’s claims of being involved.
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