The trial of a teenager accused of producing a knife during an incident that led to Cork student Cameron Blair being murdered has collapsed, after two key witnesses left the country for Cyprus.
A 16-year-old boy had been on trial at the Central Criminal Court charged with the production of a knife at a house on Bandon Road in Cork city on January 16, 2020.
Mr Blair, a 20-year-old student, was fatally stabbed during the incident, which occurred at a house party. Another juvenile pleaded guilty to his murder in April last year, receiving a life sentence that will be reviewed in 2032.
At the current trial, which had been ongoing for almost three weeks, Mr Justice David Keane told jurors that the trial was at an end, after being told by the DPP’s prosecution counsel that it would not be proceeding.
It emerged last Thursday in the jury’s absence that there had been an issue in relation to two key witnesses.
"The information is that they went to Ayia Napa in Cyprus and it is the State's belief that they did so in order to avoid giving evidence," prosecution counsel John Fitzgerald SC said.
Despite efforts to contact the witnesses and make arrangements for their appearance, they did not do so before the trial collapsed.
Mr Justice Keane said it seemed to be a "profoundly serious matter" to fail to comply with a witness order and it has to be treated as a matter of "significant gravity".
Upon opening the case on May 28, jurors were told that they must decide whether the accused produced a knife "capable of inflicting serious injury" during a dispute at a house party where Cameron Blair was murdered.
The defence maintained two boys out of a group of three gathered outside the house on the night had knives but not the defendant.
The jury was told that the events of the case related to "a tragic situation" where Cameron, a chemical engineering student at Cork Institute of technology (CIT), died at Cork University Hospital (CUH) last year after being stabbed in the neck. Another juvenile has already pleaded guilty to his murder.
Addressing the jury of eight men and four women today, Mr Justice David Keane explained that he had been informed this morning by prosecution counsel John Fitzgerald SC, who acts on behalf of the DPP, that the prosecution against the juvenile for the production of the knife had been "discontinued". "That means that the present trial is at an end," he said.
Before discharging the jury, Mr Justice Keane said that much is spoken about human rights and Constitutional rights in our democracy and if these rights are to be protected then it was necessary for people to discharge their civic duty. "You have properly discharged your civic duty by acting as jurors in this trial. The subject matter you had to deal with made your experience particularly challenging and difficult," he added.
The judge then thanked the jurors for their service and exempted them from jury service for five years. "The trial to which you have been listening and would have deliberated on is in effect at an end and you are free to go," he concluded.
Members of the Blair family were present in court for this morning's proceedings.
When the jury had left the courtroom, Mr Fitzgerald told the judge that in view of the accused's age there was a requirement that the court direct a probation report, which must be prepared within 28 days.
Mr Justice Keane said he would direct a probation report and he remanded the juvenile on continuing bail until July 12.
Last Thursday, Mr Fitzgerald told Mr Justice Keane in the absence of the jury that there had been an issue in relation to two of the witnesses in the book of evidence. "The information is that they went to Ayia Napa in Cyprus and it is the State's belief that they did so in order to avoid giving evidence," he said.
Mr Fitzgerald said that efforts were "going on in the background" to secure the two witnesses' voluntary return from Cyprus and gardaí were liaising with their family members and airlines. He said it was his belief that the two witnesses would return on June 26. The lawyer asked the court to adjourn the matter until the following day and asked the judge not to canvas the matter in any detail with the jury.
Following this, Mr Justice Keane told the jury last Thursday that the trial had run into a legal issue which would be necessary to consider and asked them to return the following day. However, the judge told the jury last Friday that these legal issues would take longer to deal with than he had anticipated and sent them away until yesterday. When the jury returned to Croke Park on Tuesday morning they did not hear any evidence and were asked to come back today.
After the jury left the courtroom this morning, the judge asked Mr Fitzgerald what the situation was in regards to the two witnesses. Counsel said that "enquiries were ongoing" and he explained that gardaí had informed him that one of the witnesses had booked a flight to return from Ayia Napa on Friday evening. The information was "less clear" in relation to the other witness, he added.
Mr Fitzgerald said that "further intervention of the court may be required but that required certain paperwork to be gone through on my side".
Mr Justice Keane said it was his task to ensure the administration of justice and he had to do his utmost to make sure that this was the case. "If events occur that interfere with the administration of justice I have to be concerned. Because I issued warrants which weren't obeyed, I will be guided in due course. I think the failure to attend in accordance with a witness order is a contempt of court," he noted.
Mr Fitzgerald said he did not have any instructions in relation to this but could say that the matter was "under active consideration".
Counsel for the teenager, Timothy O'Leary SC with Alan O'Dwyer BL, said that he would have required these two witnesses "in relation to my defence".
In reply, the judge said it seemed to be a "profoundly serious matter" to fail to comply with a witness order and it has to be treated as a matter of "significant gravity".
In his opening speech, Mr Fitzgerald told the 12 jurors that they must decide whether the accused produced a knife "capable of inflicting serious injury" during a dispute at a house party where Cameron was murdered.
It was the defence contention that two boys out of a group of three who had gathered outside the house were in possession of a knife on the night but not the defendant in this case. One of the boys has admitted murdering Cameron and another has pleaded guilty to violent disorder and to the production of a knife.
However, it was the State's case that each of the three boys had a knife on the night.
Dave Sheehan, who described himself as one of Cameron's best friends, told Mr Fitzgerald that he saw the 16-year-old accused with a knife. Under cross-examination, Mr Sheehan told the accused's defence barrister that he had seen the knife "with my eyes", when it was suggested to him that he had "added on another layer" about the accused having a knife.
A second witness, Darren O'Leary who hosted the pre-drinks party, testified that the accused was "brandishing" and "waving" a knife during an argument outside the house party. He insisted to the accused's defence counsel that he had seen the knife "with my own eyes" and if the barrister "said differently" then that was "a lie".
In April 2020, a teenage boy, then aged 17, who murdered Cameron by plunging a knife into his neck outside the house party received a life sentence that will be reviewed in 2032. The boy, who could not be named because he was a minor, pleaded guilty to murdering Cameron on Bandon Road in Co. Cork on January 16, 2020.
On January 11, 2021, a 19-year-old teenager, who also cannot be named at this point for legal reasons, pleaded guilty to violent disorder and to production of a knife in a manner likely to intimidate another on January 16, 2020. The case was adjourned for sentence until after the trial in Croke Park.