Dundon’s day of reckoning
Background: Criminal gang leader’s conviction secured by evidence of extended family members
John Dundon is driven under escort from the Special Criminal Court yesterday after he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of rugby player Shane Geoghegan. Photograph: Eric Luke
John Dundon had tried everything to avoid this day of reckoning.
He had gone to the highest courts available to defer his trial until next year. That failed. He then sacked his legal team, opting to represent himself. Then he changed his mind. He hired another team of lawyers.
He went on hunger strike, resulting in his appearance half-naked in court in a wheelchair. He collapsed twice. On both occasions he had become light-headed just as the trial was about to get under way.
Now, having already served lengthy prison sentences for threatening to kill, he faces the prospect of life behind bars for the murder of an innocent man.
Dundon (30) was the leader of the biggest and most feared criminal gang in Limerick, the McCarthy-Dundons.
He carved out his criminal career through a reign of intimidation, fear and assaults. In all, he has 40 previous convictions.
He was tried, but acquitted, for the murder of nightclub security man Brian Fitzgerald in 2002. Mr Fitzgerald had refused to allow drugs to be sold in the club where he worked.
About a dozen people have been killed over the past decade in drug-fuelled turf wars that have terrorised communities around Limerick city as the criminal gangs seemed untouchable and crimes seemed destined to go unpunished.
Perhaps the most shocking was the death of 28-year-old Shane Geoghegan, a rugby played shot dead in a case of mistaken identity in November 2008. Thousands of people filled the streets in the weeks afterwards in solidarity with the Geoghegan family, but also to appeal for an end to the cycle of violence and intimidation.
It may have seemed futile, but over recent years many of the central players have been put behind bars as a result of Garda operations boosted by new laws and policing tactics.
Dundon now joins the list of high-profile gang members facing lengthy prison sentences. His brothers Wayne and Dessie are also in prison for intimidation or murder.
The threats and intimidation along with bonds of silence and secrecy that allowed Dundon to escape prosecution for years proved to be his undoing.
The break-up of a relationship between April Collins and her partner, Ger Dundon, led to alienation between her and the rest of the Dundon family. Her involvement with another man then resulted in threats and intimidation, which prompted her to go to the Garda.
Collins, along with her sister Lisa and her partner Christopher McCarthy – a first cousin of Dundon – made statements detailing John Dundon’s role in organising and directing the shooting which resulted in Mr Geoghegan’s death.
The prosecution case hinged on the credibility of these three witnesses. They told the court how Dundon had ordered the stealing of car, directed who should take part in the shooting and how he panicked afterwards when he realised the wrong man had been shot.
In its ruling yesterday, the court held that all three should be treated as accomplices to the killing and was cautious in accepting their evidence.
But, crucially, it found their evidence was truthful and credible on the basis that it was corroborated by independent sources, such as CCTV footage and mobile phone records.
Dundon was able to produce only one to contradict some of these details: his associate Liam Casey. The court found his evidence to be evasive and “utterly unworthy of belief”.
After months of legal challenges and sometimes farcical delaying tactics, the leader of Limerick’s most feared criminal gang had run out of options.
Special Criminal Court: What is it?
The Special Criminal Court is a non-jury court reserved for terrorist and organised crime cases.
The Constitution provides for special courts where ordinary courts are “unable to secure the effective administration of justice and the preservation of public peace and order”.
The court was established in 1972 to deal with offences arising from the Troubles and at its height more than 250 cases were heard annually. As the crisis in the North waned, organised crime was certified to be dealt with by the court.
There is no jury and three judges hear a case , usually one each from the High, Circuit and District courts. Human rights organisations have criticised the non-jury nature of the court.