A Co Meath man who had pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of his friend was found not guilty of his murder at the Central Criminal Court today.
The jury of six men and six women took just under three hours to reach a unanimous verdict, finding John-Paul Mooney (aged 29), with an address at Trim Rd, Summerhill, Co Meath, not guilty of murdering Thomas Canning (aged 42), also from Summerhill, at Lough Lene, Collinstown, Co Westmeath on August 30 last year.
Mooney had pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Mr Canning and was yesterday remanded in custody by Mr Justice Barry White until July 31 for sentencing.
During the trial, the court heard that the two men had been friends for some time. Mooney had difficulties with alcohol and drugs while Mr Canning was a separated father of two, prone to depression.
On the day of the killing, both men collected their social welfare in Summerhill and then took Mr Canning’s campervan for a drive round the area.
At approximately 6pm, they stopped off at a pub in Delvin, Co Westmeath, where, according to the barmaid, they were “in very good form, very chatty, very friendly”.
From there they drove to Collinstown but, unable to find an off-licence, drove to Castlepollard, where Mooney bought 24 cans of Miller.
They returned to Collinstown and parked the campervan in the carpark on the shores of Lough Lene.
Two other campervans were parked there.
The following day, Mooney told gardaí in Mullingar that he and Mr Canning sat at a table in the back of the campervan and that Mr Canning emptied a bag of cocaine onto the table, divided it up and they started snorting.
The court also heard from Mary O’Connor, a forensic scientist, who told the jury that she examined various items recovered from the scene of the killing and that while there were no traces of cocaine, there were traces of the drug lignocaine – a local anasthetic often used to dilute cocaine, frequently used as an adulterant or mixing-agent.
Mooney told gardaí he drank seventeen cans of beer and that he had “never taken so much cocaine before”.
“The balance was gone from my legs. It was like I was going into some form of fit or seizure, like something inside me took over.
“I could see myself going over and grabbing Tommy [Mr Canning] by the throat, knowing I was going to do it before I actually done it.
“I put my left hand on his windpipe and my right hand on his mouth... I don’t know why I done this. If I could turn the clock back.”
State Pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy later carried out a post-mortem on Mr Canning’s body and concluded that “significant force was applied to the neck, sufficient to fracture the larynx and cause cardiac arrest.”
Mooney told gardaí that it “all started when he was looking for more bags of coke [from Mr Canning].”
“When he said he had none I thought he was holding back.”
“At no stage had I any of this planned,” he told the gardaí.
“There was a lot of anger and fear building up inside me, over a separate matter, not related to Tommy at all, and I think it all just exploded. It all came at me at once. It’s hard to describe.”
At approximately 3.25am, Garda Martina Gallagher, of Kells garda station, received a call from a woman who identified herself as Nicola Smith.
Ms Smith told Garda Gallagher that “a friend of hers, John Mooney, had killed another friend of theirs, Gizmo” – Gizmo was Mr Canning’s nickname.
Ms Smith gave Garda Gallagher a phone number for Mooney, she called him and he informed her that he had killed his friend.
“He asked us to please hurry, to get the gardaí to come. There was an urgency in his voice.”
Gardaí arrived on the scene to find Mr Canning’s body slumped in the back of the campervan, between the table and a cabinet, and empty beer cans scattered all over the floor.
Mooney was sitting in the passenger seat, drinking a can and talking a lot. He told the guards he was after killing his friend.