A Limerick man whose conviction for murder was quashed following a successful appeal was today sentenced to 11 years with three suspended for manslaughter.
Kevin Coughlan (aged 33), with a last address at Avondale Drive, Greystones, Limerick, had pleaded not guilty to murdering Francis Greene at Steamboat Quay in Limerick between November 28 and 29, 2009.
He was found guilty by a jury at the Central Criminal Court and was given the mandatory life sentence by Mr Justice Patrick J McCarthy on December 22, 2011.
In June this year the three-judge Court of Appeal found that Coughlan's trial had been unsatisfactory.
President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice Seán Ryan said the appeal arose out of the then Deputy State Pathologist, Dr Khalid Jaber's “crucial” evidence in the case.
The defence submitted that they were presented with conclusions on the cause of death that had not been notified to them in advance.
The case against Coughlan was that he had forced Mr Greene into the river where the victim met his death by drowning. “That was the case that was made”.
However, Dr Jaber also produced an opinion that Mr Greene had been strangled before he got into the water, the judgement stated.
It was “not satisfactory” that that was given “for the first time in the witness box when the Pathologist was giving evidence in the course of an important murder trial,” Mr Justice Ryan said.
Today the case was brought before Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy for sentence where he said this case had "exceptional circumstances" as the accused was convicted of murder at the Central Criminal Court in December 2011 after a trial that lasted 14 days but this was later quashed.
"Mr Anthony Sammon SC for Coughlan said in the course of the hearing that the appropriate conviction was manslaughter and accordingly a verdict of manslaughter was substituted by the Court of Appeal," said the judge.
"Then the matter was referred to me for sentencing but difficulty arose in the case because of Dr Jaber's evidence as a reference was made by him to strangulation," continued Mr Justice McCarthy.
"As we know Dr Jaber has emigrated and whether or not he would be available to give evidence is another question.
"In any event the Court of Appeal did not criticise Dr Jaber and the defence and prosecution were placed in a very difficult situation.
"Every rational person can see that the accused person is entitled to know of the case against them in clear terms. In this instance having regard to the cause of death was crucial. Ultimately because of the unsatisfactory evidence of Dr Jaber the conviction was quashed," he said.
Mr Justice McCarthy said that responsibility had been accepted by the accused for causing the deceased to be in the River Shannon and to die as a result of that.
Mr Justice McCarthy said the family of the deceased were placed in a situation where he had disappeared and hoped his body would be found.
"This was compounded by the false allegation of a sexual allegation which is now accepted to be entirely untrue," added the judge.
Mr Justice McCarthy then told the court that the pain to the family of Mr Greene was increased and compounded by a lie told by the accused to the "potential whereabouts of the deceased."
The judge then referred to the Victim Impact Statement read to the court by prosecution counsel Mr Patrick McCarthy SC last Monday.
He said there was no doubt that the family of the deceased had suffered and it is perfectly understandable that their lives will never be the same again.
"The fact Mr Greene was missing for 10 weeks and his mother felt particularly affected and was ashamed at one stage that she felt she couldn't go to mass in her local church, she obviously was in an extreme state of worry and stress in regard to that. It is obvious the deceased was a very fine person and the family say they are haunted by his death and I'm sure that is no exaggeration," said the judge.
"The accused went to his home and at knife point forced him down the street
Mr Justice McCarthy told the court that Coughlan had a "bad criminal record" and at the age of 18 in 2000 he was convicted of three robberies and four burglaries. The court heard that in 2002 he was then convicted to prison for three years for robbery.
The judge told the court that the time of when a plea of guilt is entered is of importance and in this case it was not at the time of being charged or before the trial.
"It was what we call five minutes to midnight. The lateness of the plea in this instance is explicable to the nature of the evidence by Dr Jaber. In effect what the accused did was plead guilty to something which was inevitable," said the judge.
Mr Justice McCarthy then told the court that having regard to the nature of the crime, the appropriate sentence lies between 10 and 12 years. He then said he would afford credit for the plea of guilty to three years.
"The sentence will be 11 years less three years," said the judge.
The judge then gave Coughlan credit for his period of custody saying: "The sentence will date from June 10, 2010 and the last three years will be suspended."