The 30-year-old Romanian man who denied the murder of 64-year-old Cork man in a garden on Boreenmanna Road at Christmas 2019 was found guilty of murder and now faces a life sentence.
The eight women and four men of the jury returned to Courtroom 6 after six hours and 52 minutes of deliberations over two days at the courthouse on Anglesea Street where the Central Criminal Court murder trial has been at hearing for 14 days.
There were emotional scenes as the family of the deceased burst into tears once the verdict was announced..
Ionut Cosmin Nicholescu, 30, with an address at Branistea Village, Damovita County, Romania, showed no visible reaction to the verdict. He denied the single count of murder.
He was put on trial on March 13 charged with the murder of Francis (Frankie) Dunne. The count states that on a date unknown between December 27 and December 28, 2019, he murdered Francis Dunne at Castlegreine House, Boreenamanna Road, Cork, contrary to Common Law.
The Romanian, who was working as a chef at the Silver Key pub and restaurant, returned to his squat at the derelict house after 8pm that Friday night, December 27, 2019.
Mr Dunne went there to drink as the sheltered accommodation at Clanmornin House across the road where he lived did not permit alcohol. While two men walked into the garden that night, only Nicholescu left.
The remains of the deceased were decapitated and the arms amputated in the garden. Prosecution senior counsel Ray Boland said it was the prosecution view that this was work in progress for the disposal of the remains.
However, gardaí were first alerted to a body located in the garden as early as the following afternoon when — by sheer coincidence — a neighbour went searching for a missing cat named ‘Mouse’ and made the grim discovery of human remains.
This sparked the beginning of a major investigation.
Detective Sergeant Katrine Tansley said in a summary of the evidence for the sentencing that the pathologist found cause of death was neck compression associated with blunt force trauma to the head.
Papers were found in the bedroom used by the accused that identified a former boyfriend. Gardaí were looking to talk to Nicholescu three days after the crime but he was on his way to Bucharest.
Phone calls between Chief Superintendent Vincent O’Sullivan and the accused were recorded and played to the jury. They included these comments from the accused: “Somebody was in behind me holding a big sword like a machete. He said to me to shut the f*** up… I said I don’t want to die. I said don’t hit me with the sword.
“I saw the guy when I looked on the ground. It was another guy with no pants. I saw some top clothes but no pants. They asked me to drag the body to that door and up behind there. They cut the body — the guy with the knife.
"The other guy with the machete was behind me. They told me to put the parts in a black bag and to throw them in the bush. It is a big bush. I go there. They give me the head… “They said f*** him in the bush — that means push him in the bush.
"I went into the bush… I don’t want to go to prison because of this. I would rather die under the f***ing rock. I did not kill the guy. I swear on my dick.”
By arrangement, a further statement was made by the accused in Bucharest, in the presence of Romanian police, a lawyer and members of An Garda Síochána.
The prosecution put it to the jury that the two men described by the accused as compelling him to dispose of the body did not exist and were phantoms.
Prosecution senior counsel Ray Boland submitted to the jury that the accused man murdered Mr Dunne by first striking him with a glass bottle and then strangling him. He said the dismemberment occurred afterwards as ‘a work in progress’ for disposing of the remains.
Philipp Rahn, senior counsel for the defence said to the jurors: “Look at Mr Nicholescu himself — the lack of any reason or motive. It is unlikely, what the prosecution are saying.
There is a very significant forensic problem with the unidentified fingerprint [on the plastic bag containing clothing of the deceased man].
"You have lots and lots of material out of the Garda investigation but you cannot be satisfied that there are no relevant questions unanswered. There has to be a reasonable doubt. That threshold of beyond reasonable doubt has not been crossed. The prosecution narrative is not the only one.”
Mr Rahn said if they accepted his account that Nicholescu arrived on the scene where two armed men stood over the deceased and compelled the accused to move the remains, then the verdict had to be not guilty.
Similarly, they had to find him not guilty if his account was reasonably possible. And finally, even if they did not accept his account, they could still find him not guilty if they were not satisfied that the prosecution had proved its case beyond reasonable doubt.
While a life sentence inevitably follows the murder conviction, Mr Justice McDermott agreed to a defence application to adjourn sentencing to the Central Criminal Court sitting in Cork on April 28. The accused was remanded in continuing custody until then.
Margaret Lucey from Support for Victims After Crime read the victim impact statement on behalf of the three children, four grandchildren, four sisters and one brother of the late Frankie Dunne.
“His grandchildren will never get a chance to build a loving relationship with their grandfather.
“Our dad was described by staff as being a kind, good and gentle soul and a character who was easy to deal with, funny, always loved music and singing. We will always be grateful for the care and kindness they showed him.
“Our dad never lost the love or support of our mother Joan who always loved him. We are grateful to our cousin Johnny for making sure [Frankie] always attended the trad sessions every week.
“The court warned us of the graphic details that would be outlined in the trial. This, we know, was necessary. But we have to live with this imagery for the rest of our lives. Some of the family are hugely affected by the evidence.
“He was murdered, mutilated, left abandoned. The humour being used by the offender was very insulting, disturbing and sickening. We hope that no family has to suffer what our family endured.
"While he succumbed to a life of alcohol dependency, he never lost the love of his family. Our dad never lost our love or support at any time during his addiction."
The Dunne family paid tribute to the meticulous investigation of the gardaí and especially thanked Detective Garda Sharon Sweeney, Det Sgt Katrine Tansley, Sgt Alan McCarthy, Det Supt Michael Comyns and Chief Supt Vincent O’Sullivan.