Brothers-in-law died by unlawful killing and suicide, inquest finds

Coroner hears of deaths at neighbouring farms outside Bagnalstown, Co Carlow

 Gardai at the farm outside Bagnalstown, Co Carlow last year. Photograph: Eric Luke /The Irish Times

Gardai at the farm outside Bagnalstown, Co Carlow last year. Photograph: Eric Luke /The Irish Times

Tue, Sep 24, 2013, 20:28

An inquest has found that a farmer fatally wounded by multiple gunshots was unlawfully killed and that shotgun residue found on his dead brother-in-law in a nearby shed “provided very strong support for the view” that he had been shot by this brother in law.

Used shotgun cartridges found in the pockets of his brother in law Michael Jordan (52) after he took his own life in a shed on his farm in Co Carlow were consistent with injuries sustained by George Rothwell (68), whose body was found minutes after he made an emergency call about a fire on his land, the inquest into their deaths heard today.

Coroner Dr Brendan Doyle told the jury the evidence seemed “clear-cut” and the jury returned verdicts of unlawful killing in the case of Mr Rothwell and suicide in the case ofMr Jordan.

The unlawful killing and suicide happened in the early hours of February 22nd 2012 on the two men’s neighbouring farms outside Bagenalstown. Mr Rothwell’s sister, Hilda, was married to Mr Jordan and in her evidence read to the inquest she said her husband was a “worrier” and had suffered a “little bit” from depression.

On the night of the double tragedy, she said Michael gave her “an intense kiss” before she went to bed. “He looked into my eyes with an intensity I hadn’t seen before,” she said. When she got up the following morning, Michael wasn’t in the house but that wasn’t unusual as he would often be out checking livestock, but she later found out her brother George had been found dead in his home at Ballycormac House, which was nearby. Shortly afterwards, two neighbours told her they had found Michael’s body in a shed.

Both Michael and her brother George had legally-held shotguns, Mrs Jordan said.

Her brother George, who was single and a “laid-back” man according to his sister, came to their house every Sunday for dinner and they had all gone to the races at Gowran Park the previous week.

Fire officer Michael Hogan said that, after an emergency call was placed at 3.18am on the morning of February 22, 2012, the fire service found three buildings alight on George Rothwell’s property. He said he found Mr Rothwell’s body lying on the ground, in the kitchen of his farmhouse, with a double-barrel shotgun on the floor near his legs. There was a bullet-hole in the kitchen window and pellet-marks on the wall. .

A neighbour, Francis Kearney, gave evidence of finding Michael Jordan’s body hanging in a shed after he went up to help after 9am.

Gardaí confirmed that the initial call made to report the fire on Mr Rothwell’s property was made by Mr Rothwell himself.

Deputy state pathologist Dr Michael Curtis said Mr Rothwell sustained four shotgun wounds. One was to the neck and was discharged from about three feet way.

Mr Jordan died as a result of hanging, Dr Curtis said. There was no trace of alcohol or drugs in his body.

Detective garda Ronan Lawlor, from the garda ballistics section, said nine discharged shotgun cartridges were found in Mr Jordan’s pockets, along with matches. The cartridges were “consistent” with the injuries sustained by Mr Rothwell, he said. Two discharged cartridges were found in the shotgun near Mr Rothwell’s legs but there was nothing to indicate shots had been fired from that firearm.

Evidence was also read at the inquest from forensic scientist Claire Greaney, of the state laboratories, who said an examination of shotgun residue found on Mr Jordan “provided very strong support for the view that Michael Jordan shot George Rothwell, rather than the view that he had nothing to do with it”.

Coroner Dr Brendan Doyle told the jury the evidence seemed “clear-cut” and the jury, after a brief adjournment, returned verdicts of unlawful killing in the case of George Rothwell and suicide in relation to Michael Jordan.