A jury has returned a verdict of unlawful killing following an inquest into the death of a man gunned down in front of his partner and her two children in a gangland-style shooting in Cork City just over six years ago.
The jury at Cork City Coroner’s Court took less than five minutes to decide the verdict after hearing detailed evidence from Gerald ‘Topper’ Staunton’s partner, Karen Quilligan O’Flynn, about his final moments on January 20, 2010.
She told the inquest that she and her partner, 41, left their home at Westlawn, off Sarsfield’s Rd on the southside of Cork City, just before 8pm that night. She said she was holding her two-year-old daughter in her arms, and was walking down the drive just behind Mr Staunton, who had just placed her seven-year-old daughter in the back seat of his new 07 Audi A4, which was parked on the road outside, when she heard footsteps running.
She told the inquest that her partner was approached by a lone gunman, wearing a balaclava, black shoes, black clothes, and gloves. She said the gunman stood about five or six feet from Mr Staunton, with his feet spread apart, holding what appeared to be a side-by-side double-barrel sawn-off shotgun, with his left hand on its base pressed to his stomach, and his right hand on the barrel. She said the gunman appeared very calm, was about six feet tall, and of good athletic build.
She said she shouted “stop” as Mr Staunton turned from the car, raised his left arm, and said: “Ah don’t” before the gunman opened fire twice at point-blank range.
Mr Staunton was shot in the left arm, and on the left side of his back, just below his ribs. The gunman ran to a red van parked nearby. It was found about 20 minutes later burned out in a cemetery at Castlewhite in Waterfall about 6km away.
Ms Quilligan O’Flynn said she put her younger daughter in the house, and went back outside to see her seriously wounded partner struggling into the front garden where he collapsed.
“I could see he had a bad wound to the left side of his chest, and I was screaming for help,” she said. :He tried to talk to me but he was gurgling his words. He only managed to say ‘Jesus Christ’.”
Off-duty nurses Edel O’Riordan and Margaret Walsh, who lived nearby, ran outside to help. When they removed Mr Staunton’s shirt, Ms Quilligan O’Flynn said she could see a wound in his chest bigger than a euro coin. In her statement, Ms O’Riordan said the victim was covered in blood, that his pupils were dilated, and that she could not find a pulse. She stood over him and used towels to apply pressure to the chest wound as gardaí and paramedics were alerted.
Members of the armed Garda Regional Support Unit and paramedics treated Mr Staunton in the garden but he was pronounced dead in an ambulance at the scene about 20 minutes later.
Assistant State pathologist Margaret Bolster said Mr Staunton would have been mobile after suffering the gunshot wound to his arm but that the second gunshot wound, to the chest, was fatal. The cause of death was shock and haemorrhage due to the gunshot wound to the chest, with lacerations to the lungs, heart, and aorta.
Ms Quilligan O’Flynn told coroner Philip Comyn that, as far as she knew, her partner, a convicted drug dealer who had served time in prison, was not in fear of, or in dispute with anyone, and that she did not think he owed anyone money, or that anyone owed him any substantial amount of money.
No one has ever been charged with the murder. Supt Charlie Barry told the coroner that up to 60 gardaí were involved in the investigation, that house-to-house inquiries were conducted, more than 500 questionnaires were filled out, and over 600 statements taken. Technical, ballistics and DNA examinations were carried out, finger-tip searches were conducted at several areas of interest to the investigation, and CCTV from more than 180 premises in or near areas of interest was harvested and viewed.
Supt Barry said several arrests were made, and a file on the case was sent to the DPP, which recommended earlier this year that there be no prosecution.
Supt Barry said the investigation is still ongoing.
Soon after the killing, the Real IRA issued a statement through the ‘32 County Sovereignty Movement’ claiming responsibility for the shooting. The Real IRA said Mr Staunton’s killing was not “a once-off” and issued a warning to drug dealers in Cork at the time to desist from their activities.
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