Senior barrister with 'powerful incentive to evade justice' refused bail in murder trial

Counsel for Diarmuid Rossa Phelan told his bail hearing: "He stands for something, he has achieved something over the decades and that must count for something."
Senior barrister with 'powerful incentive to evade justice' refused bail in murder trial

Gardaí have learned that the accused, Diarmuid Rossa Phelan (pictured), is a US citizen and has property in Colorado. File photo: Collins Courts

A leading barrister accused of murdering a father-of-four in a fatal shooting on farmland in Tallaght last month has a "powerful incentive to evade justice" and should not be granted bail, a High Court judge has ruled.

Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy on Monday delivered a decision on Diarmuid Rossa Phelan's application to be granted bail pending his trial. Ruling on the senior counsel and law lecturer's application, the judge said that having reflected on the evidence the court had concluded as a matter of probability that the applicant posed a serious flight risk if admitted on bail.

The judge said on Monday that Mr Phelan has a "powerful incentive to evade justice" based on the seriousness of the charge, the strength of the evidence, the likely sentence and the ongoing threats to the accused.

Ms Justice Murphy said the court disagreed with a submission by the accused's barrister that Mr Phelan had a greater understanding of bail obligations than the majority of the population. "People who find themselves in desperate situations will be tempted to evade the consequences," she added.

Defence counsel, Michael O'Higgins SC, submitted to the court last Wednesday that his client is a person who has a greater understanding of having to meet a court order "rather than 99.9% of the population".

"He stands for something, he has achieved something over the decades and that must count for something," emphasised counsel.

Mr Phelan (53), of Kiltalown Lane, Tallaght, Co. Dublin, is accused of the murder of Keith Conlon (36) at Hazelgrove Farm, Kiltalown Lane, Tallaght, on February 22 last. Mr Conlon, from Kiltalown Park in Tallaght, was severely injured in the shooting incident and died at Tallaght University Hospital two days later.

Last week's bail hearing

The High Court heard last week that a witness told gardaí that Mr Phelan shot Mr Conlon, who was unarmed, in the back of the head as he turned to run away after an altercation on farmland at the foot of the Dublin mountains last month.

The Associate Professor of Law at Trinity College told gardaí in interview that he accepted he shot Mr Conlon with the licensed firearm but said he was under threat and was "terrified" at the time.

Mr O'Higgins has told the court that "the tenor" of Mr Phelan's statement to gardaí was that the shooting was an accident, where he had crossed the gun over from left to right in an arc and was left "stunned" by Mr Conlon's injury.

The High Court also heard last Tuesday it would be alleged that Mr Phelan had first "deliberately shot" Mr Conlon's dog with a legally held rifle without any forewarning.

A witness told gardaí that the senior lawyer then fired three shots from a licensed revolver following a "verbal altercation", with the final shot hitting the deceased in the back of the head after he had turned to run away, the court also heard.

'I want to clear this matter'

Mr Phelan, who gave evidence via video-link from prison over two days last week, told Ms Justice Murphy that he has no intention of leaving the jurisdiction, saying: "I want to clear this matter because my entire name, reputation and career is dependent on it".

Last week, lawyers for Mr Phelan told the High Court that the leading lawyer would be "completely and utterly ruined" and his "life's work wiped out" if he was not granted bail.

The High Court has heard that Mr Phelan has assets valued in the millions, while during his evidence to the court last Tuesday, gardaí learned for the first time that the accused is a US citizen and has property in Colorado.

The 53-year-old has been farming in Tallaght since 2015 and holds lands in Wexford where he has been farming for over 20 years. The hearing was told that the accused has "extensive experience" with firearms and is a licensed owner of 10 firearms, which have been seized since his arrest.

At last week's bail hearing, Detective Garda Mick McGrath from Tallaght Garda Station told Jane McGowan BL for the State, that gardaí were objecting to bail under the “O’Callaghan principles”, where it was argued the accused is a likely flight risk and may not turn up for his murder trial.

There was also an objection to bail under Section 2 of the Bail Act, which allows the refusal of bail if the court is satisfied such a refusal is necessary to prevent the accused from committing a serious offence while on bail.

The detective said he also feared that the prosecution witnesses in the case may be interfered with as they were Mr Phelan's employees and were also eyewitnesses to the shooting.

It was alleged that the accused has had previous disputes in relation to land and trespass matters and "that a similar type of offending could occur".

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