Man changes plea in murder trial

A Cork man on trial for the murder of his neighbour dramatically changed his plea at the Central Criminal Court today after three days of legal argument.

A Cork man on trial for the murder of his neighbour dramatically changed his plea at the Central Criminal Court today after three days of legal argument.

It was the eighth day of the trial of Christopher McCarthy (aged 39) of Coleman's Terrace, Cloyne, Co Cork who had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Mr John Heelam at Berkley Court, Cloyne, Co Cork on March 9, 2001.

The 52-year-old died after being stabbed in the neck at his home in Berkley Court in Cloyne in the middle of the night.

But when the jury returned after an absence of three days today, McCarthy's counsel Mr Patrick MacEntee SC asked that his client be re-arraigend. Mr McCarthy then pleaded not guilty to murder, but guilty to the manslaughter of Mr Heelam. His plea was accepted by Mr Patrick J McCarthy SC, prosecuting, on behalf of the DPP.

Thanking the jury for their service, Mr Justice Barry White explained to them why legal argument had begun after evidence was heard that the gardai went directly to the home of the accused shortly after Mr Heelam had been removed to hospital in the early hours of March 9.

He said a "dying declaration" made to the gardai by Mr Heelam indicating that Christopher McCarthy was responsible for stabbing him had been contested by defence counsel.

The judge informed the jury that he had ruled against allowing the dying declaration be heard as evidence in the trial.

However, he said this explained why "the first port of call" for the gardai was the home of the accused.

A second legal matter concerning the mental state of the accused during his detention at Midleton Garda Station brought into question the "mental capacity" of Mr McCarthy on the night in question.

"This will involve me possibly hearing psychiatric evidence and other matters to have a full picture of Mr Mc Carthy's background," Mr Justice White explained. He discharged the six women and six men of the jury and exempted them from jury service for the next ten years.

Mr McCarthy was remanded in custody and will be sentenced on December 5.

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