A second garda killer who “callously” murdered an unarmed sergeant as he lay injured on the ground will be released early following a landmark Supreme Court ruling.
Michael McHugh will benefit from the case taken by his accomplice, Noel Callan, in which the Supreme Court ruled he was entitled to remission on his 40-year sentence for capital murder.
The one-quarter remission means both men will be due for release in early Jul 2015, after serving 30 years in prison for the murder of Sgt Patrick Morrissey in June 1985.
Both men were conv-icted of capital murder and sentenced to death, but this was commuted in 1989 to 40 years’ penal servitude.
Callan was convicted of murder on the basis of common design, but it was McHugh who actually killed the sergeant in what the court said was “an act of cold-blooded murder”.
In the judgment, Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman said Callan was injured as he and McHugh made their getaway after an armed robbery. They were pursued by Sgt Morrissey, who was unarmed. He said Callan played “no direct part” in the shooting.
The judge said McHugh fired the first shot, hitting the garda in the leg. He said that after a period, McHugh “walked up to the injured Sgt Morrissey and shot him in the head”, an act he described as “gratuitous”.
He dismissed as “nonsense” contradictory arguments by the State that Callan was not entitled to remission and ruled he was entitled to the one-quarter remission and that he was eligible for the “possibility” of enhanced remission of one third.
The Irish Examiner has learned that McHugh will now be automatically entitled to one-quarter remission as a result of the ruling and will be out at around the same time as Callan, in early July 2015. The Prison Service will not grant either men, both of whom are in Portlaoise Prison, one-third remission, which has only ever been given once.
Middle-ranking gardaí are calling on Justice Minister Alan Shatter to change the law to ensure that those convicted of capital murder are not entitled to remission.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors said it was “disappointed” by the ruling and said that when the death penalty for capital murder was replaced by a 40-year term, people expected exactly that.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said it would “carefully consider” the implications of the ruling. He said that capital murder was replaced in the Criminal Justice Act 1990 with a new offence of murder of a garda in the course of his or her duty. It said those convicted of such get a mandatory life sentence and the court must lay down a minimum period of imprisonment of 40 years. He said remission applies in this case.
Liam Herrick of the Irish Penal Reform Trust said the ruling was particularly significant in that it highlighted the provision of enhanced remission of one third, which has been part of the prison rules since 2007. “The fact the Supreme Court referred specifically to this rule indicates to us such a system should be in place by the Prison Service and the Department of Justice.”
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