Garda killer fails in release bid

Fri, Apr 15, 2011, 01:00

A man who has served 25 years of a 40 year sentence for the murder of  Sgt Patrick Morrissey during an armed robbery in 1985 has lost his High Court bid to be considered for remission.

However, Mr Justice Michael Hanna noted that Noel Callan had "flourished artistically and intellectually" while in prison and could advance "substantial arguments his circumstances should be looked at afresh".

Some might persuasively invoke fairness and compassion in aid of Callan's plight while others might understandably take the view, given the "appalling nature of this crime inflicted on a courageous servant of the State", Callan has already received "his full quotient of mercy", the judge said.

The court could not call in aid such conflicting statements to try and shoehorn Mr Callan into or out of a legal framework that simply does not fit, the judge said. "In my opinion, these matters and their potential resolution (if any there be) lie outside the walls of these courts."

Callan (47), Cullaville, Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, had claimed he has unlawfully been deprived of a right of remission, which could reduce his 40-year term by up to one third. Other persons convicted of the murder of gardaí after passage of the Criminal Justice Act 1990 can seek remission, the court heard.

Mr Justice Hanna today ruled Callan is not eligible for remission either under Section 23 of the Criminal Justice Act 1951 or Section 5 of the Criminal Justice Act 1990.

He also rejected claims by Callan he has been treated unequally before the law in relations to remission entitlements.

Noting Callan's original death sentence was commuted by then President Patrick Hillery in 1986 to one of 40 years penal servitude, the judge said the power to commute does not fit in with the characteristics of the administration of justice and constitutes an executive, rather than judicial, administration of justice.

Commuting of the sentence constituted an exercise in clemency by the President and did not attract the protection of constitutional justice, he ruled.

Callan was aged 22 when convicted by the non-jury Special Criminal Court in December 1985 of the capital murder of Sergeant Patrick Morrissey (49) at Rathbrist, Tallanstown, on June 27th 1985 following an armed robbery the same day at Ardee Labour Exchange.

Sgt Morrissey was initially wounded by Callan's co-accused Michael McHugh, of Clonalig, Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, who then went back and "executed" him, Deirdre Murphy SC, for Callan, said. Ms Murphy said her client accepted he was part of a common design in relation to a robbery but was not in the vicinity when Sgt Morrissey was shot.

Callan's father had died when he was aged just 16, and his mother died of cancer two years later and Callan came under the influence of McHugh, an older man, and was persuaded to get involved in the robbery, Ms Murphy said. He was not trying to diminish the seriousness of what was done, counsel added.

Both Callan and McHugh were sentenced to death for murder but their sentences were commuted by the President to 40 years penal servitude. They also received 12 year sentences for the robbery.

Callan was in court today for the judgment. Bernie Morrissey, the widow of Sgt Morrissey, was also in court.