Two men who helped a criminal gang to murder Vinnie Ryan, a brother of slain Real IRA leader Alan Ryan, have asked a judge for mercy and to leave "light at the end of the tunnel" when handing down sentence.
The court heard that defendant Jeffrey Morrow (37) has 120 previous convictions, including one for plotting a €1m cash-in-transit robbery.
Mr Ryan's partner Kelly Smyth said Vinnie's daughter, who was five weeks old when he was shot dead, is beginning to wonder what happened to her daddy. She asked: "How do I explain to a three-year-old girl that her daddy is never coming home?"
Paul O'Beirne and Jeffrey Morrow pleaded guilty to helping the criminal gang by providing and destroying a stolen Volkswagen Golf that gardaí say was used in the "drive-by" shooting in which Ryan (25) suffered multiple gunshot wounds including one to the head.
O'Beirne (36) of Colepark Drive, Ballyfermot and Morrow (37) of Burnell Court, Coolock went on trial on June 24 last when they pleaded not guilty to Mr Ryan's murder. Following almost two weeks of legal argument both men pleaded guilty to facilitating a serious offence contrary to Section 72 of the Criminal Justice Act, 2006.
At a hearing today Detective Superintendent Colm Murphy detailed Morrow's 120 previous convictions which include threatening to ram a garda with his car, conspiracy to rob a cash-in-transit van carrying €1m, using stolen bank drafts to pay for stolen vehicles, possession of a shotgun, cartridges and a garda baton, and possession of €3,000 worth of cocaine. O'Beirne's 25 previous convictions were all for road traffic offences except one Section 4 assault conviction.
Det Supt Murphy told prosecution counsel Paul Burns SC that gardaí investigating Vinnie Ryan's murder compiled vast amounts of CCTV footage and mobile phone evidence linking the two accused to a silver Volkswagen Golf that gardaí believe was used by the gunman who shot Vinnie Ryan.
He described how Ryan dropped off his partner Kelly Smyth and their five-week-old daughter at Ms Smyth's home on February 19, 2016. Another car then pulled up and fired at least 13 shots towards Mr Ryan's car. Three of the bullets struck him and one struck him in the head causing his death.
Gardaí later that day found a silver Volkswagen Golf that had been burnt out on a laneway in Naas, Co Kildare. They used the chassis number to identify it and found that it had been stolen from the home of Joseph Cogan in October 2015. Gardaí found a sheet of tarpaulin in a bin in O'Beirne's home following the murder of Vincent Ryan. Forensic DNA analysts examined the sheet and found dog hairs on it, which they matched to one of Mr Cogan's dogs. Using CCTV footage gardaí traced the movements of the Volkswagen and found that after the shooting it had driven in convoy with a Kia Sorrento owned by O'Beirne's partner towards where it was burnt out. Later that afternoon a Kia Sorrento arrived at O'Beirne's home and both O'Beirne and Morrow got out.
The provision and destruction of the car was "vital" to the criminal gang's plan to murder Vincent Ryan, Det Supt Murphy said. The two men, he said, knew of the existence of the criminal gang and provided and destroyed the car knowing it was used to carry out the murder.
Vinnie Ryan's partner Kelly Smyth told the court that he was a proud dad having just celebrated the birth of his daughter five weeks earlier. She said:
He lived for his family but he only had five weeks with his daughter. He was such a proud dad and loved showing her off.
She said they lived in "our own happy little bubble" but the bubble was popped the day he was shot dead. She had just brought their daughter from the car into the house when she heard a series of loud bangs and ran out to find Vincent fatally wounded. She said: "I watched Vincent fighting for his life, struggling for every breath. It is an image that will stay with me forever."
She said she lives in fear that his killers will come back for her. "I'm a prisoner in my own mind," she said. Every time a car pulls up outside her home she jumps up, thinking they have returned for her. Their daughter, she said, is beginning to wonder what happened to her daddy.
Ms Smyth asked: "How do I explain to a three-year-old girl that her daddy is never coming home?"
The disregard for human life shown by Vinnie's killers, she said, was "evident by the time it happened, in the middle of the day with children coming home from school." In a message to those involved in the shooting she said: "You have gained nothing because you never knew Vincent and he never knew you."
Brendan Grehan SC, on behalf of O'Beirne, told Justice Michael White that his client has six children with two partners. His current partner has stuck by him and had written a letter to the court. Reading from it, Mr Grehan said she described O'Beirne as a "big friendly giant, loved in the community."
She said he had always been a family man but "life took its toll" when he found his best friend dead. She said he started using drugs as a result but has since sought out help and is "on the road to recovery".
She added: "He deeply regrets what he has done and I'm going to miss him deeply."
Mr Grehan asked the judge to take into consideration O'Beirne's guilty plea, his six children and his previous record. He added: "I would ask that you leave light at the end of the tunnel."
Michael O'Higgins SC, for Morrow, said his client has good family support, his parents having attended every day of the trial. His partner and mother of his children, Mr O'Higgins said, is "devout" and "speaks very well of him as a partner and father."
Mr O'Higgins said the court's purpose in sentencing is not vengeance and that the court must "look at the person in the round, not just the bad behaviour."
The lawyer said that Morrow's mother had written to the court saying that as a child he was hyper and as a young man he got "in with a very bad crowd".
His aunt wanted the court to know that she thought he should have been diagnosed with ADHD as a child and also that there are many aspects of his character that are good.
Mr O'Higgins said that the offence is a serious one and his client is "realistic" but he said rehabilitation is an important part of sentencing.
He concluded: "I ask you to extend whatever leniency or mercy is available." The maximum sentence for the offence is 15 years.
Justice White commended the gardaí for the investigation into Mr Ryan's death and extended his sympathies to the Ryan family and to Ms Smyth. He said he was very moved by Ms Smyth's statement. The men will be sentenced on Wednesday July 31.