Bray Boxing Club murder trial collapses after juror becomes seriously ill

Trial ‘impossible to continue’ with less than 10 jurors, judge says

Gerard Cervi (34), from the East Wall area of Dublin 3, had pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder. Photograph: Collins Courts

Gerard Cervi (34), from the East Wall area of Dublin 3, had pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

The trial of a man accused of murdering an early morning gym-goer and of attempting to murder coach Pete Taylor at Bray Boxing Club has collapsed at the Central Criminal Court due to a juror becoming seriously ill.

The trial has been sitting for 10 weeks and heard weeks of legal argument in the jury’s absence since opening at the Criminal Courts of Justice.

Evidence was scheduled to continue before the 10 jurors on Monday but Mr Justice Michael White told the nine remaining jurors on Monday that one of their number could not continue to attend the trial as she had to “go back into” hospital.

The judge said that while the juror’s illness was not “life-threatening”, it was “impossible to continue” as they had “gone below 10 jurors”.

Mr Justice White thanked the jury of three men and six women before discharging them from their civic duty. “My sincere thanks to you all. You have been a fantastic jury and shown real public service commitment. Thank you very much, you are now free to go,” he said. He exempted the nine jurors from jury service for life.

He then listed Gerard Cervi’s case for mention before the Central Criminal Court on October 11th.

Mr Cervi (34), from the East Wall area in Dublin 3, had pleaded not guilty to murdering Bobby Messett (50) at Bray Boxing Club, Bray Harbour, Co Wicklow, on June 5th, 2018. He also denied the attempted murder of boxing trainer Pete Taylor and Ian Britton on the same date and location.

The trial, which opened on June 29th, was originally due to finish in August and two jurors asked to be discharged when the finish date was extended to September. On August 24th, the remaining 10 jurors further agreed to sit on until October 22nd.

However, nine members of the jury arrived in court last Thursday and Mr Justice White told them he was “sorry to hear about the illness to one of your number”. He said he hoped the juror would make a good recovery and adjourned the trial until Monday when he expected the court to have more information on the juror’s condition.

The judge had previously told the jury that the trial could not continue with fewer than 10 jurors.

He had also previously apologised to the jury for the “very bad underestimation” of how long the trial would take.

The trial had heard a gunman entered Bray Boxing Club at about 6.50am and opened fire. He shot Mr Messett in the head, killing him instantly. Mr Britton was shot in the leg. Mr Taylor, who was running the class, ran towards the gunman but was shot in the shoulder and fell to the ground.

It was the State’s case against Mr Cervi that he was the “lone gunman” who entered Bray Boxing Club just before 7am on June 5 and fired nine shots from a semi automatic pistol “in quick succession” in “varying directions”, leaving Mr Messett dead and trainer Pete Taylor and Mr Britton injured “before making good his escape”.

In his opening address, prosecution counsel Paul Murray SC said that a silver metallic Volkswagen van allegedly used in the attack was found “not a million miles away” from the accused’s family home at Russell Avenue East. He said gardaí had “a starting point” for the van at Bray Harbour , a “midpoint” for the van at Cabinteely and an “end point” for the van at Pigeon House Road in Ringsend. “We also have a witness who saw the van there [at Pigeon House Road] at 8.15am in the morning and a man with a bicycle,” he said.

Mr Murray explained that if one added all the pieces together, the prosecution would say that not only was Mr Cervi the man on the bike, not only was he the man in the van but that he was also the man who entered Bray Boxing Club just before 7am that morning and carried out the shooting.

The barrister also pointed out in his opening speech that if a person makes a mistake, or kills the wrong person, it is still murder if there was intent to kill a person.

Pete Taylor

Boxing trainer Pete Taylor, who was taking the gym class at 6.45am on June 5th, said he was plugging his phone into the sound system when “a loud bang went off”. He thought it was an air compressor and when he turned around he heard a second bang and saw someone “straddled between the door frame with what looked like a gun”. “I thought he was someone playing a prank and then I noticed Bobby [MR MESSETT]on the ground and everyone hitting the ground. The chap was shooting right to left around the room, shooting very low,” he said.

Mr Taylor looked for something “to throw at the chap” but all he could see were large weights too heavy to throw. “It was chaotic. I just decided to run at him, not directly towards him because there were machines in the way that I had to run around to get to him. As I was running the first shot went off that was aimed towards me. I felt it whizz above my head and I put my arm across my head and kept running,” he recalled.

“I was within touching distance, maybe a foot away,” said Mr Taylor, when he “dived” towards the gunman but was struck by a bullet, spun 180 degrees and landed on his back on the floor. He said: “I tried to get up again but couldn’t get up with the pain and then the shooting stopped and it went quiet and then everyone started screaming and shouting.”

Mr Taylor became emotional in front of the jury when he described paramedics putting him in a chair and lifting him towards the stairs. “That was the first time I saw Bobby,” he said.

Mr Taylor described the gunman as being about five feet eight inches tall, wearing a black jacket and high viz vest. He recalled hearing seven or eight shots and thought the shooting went on for 15 to 20 seconds.

He also said that he complained to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) after his runners and tracksuit bottoms, containing between €200 and €400, were removed from him at the scene and never returned.

The boxing coach said he had asked gardaí to return his runners, which had been removed by paramedics, and the sum of money that was in his tracksuit bottoms. However, he said he was told by gardaí that they did not have his money or runners and had never taken them. Ultimately, Gsoc dismissed his complaint, he concluded.

Garda Glenn McLoughlin, who was the first responder to arrive at the scene of the fatal attack at Bray Harbour, said he took possession of Mr Taylor’s clothing after he was shot at Bray Boxing club and said that he “never saw or took any cash” belonging to him.

Gda McLoughlin said the boxing coach was not wearing any tracksuit bottoms in the ambulance or hospital as his right leg was exposed. “They weren’t taken off him in my presence,” he added.

Mr Taylor’s partner Karen Brown testified that she arrived at the gym moments after the shooting and almost crashed into a grey van that was leaving the scene, which she thought was a Volkswagen Caddy or a Ford Transit. When she saw Mr Taylor lying on the floor of the gym with blood coming from his chest, she thought he was dying.

Ms Brown said she remembered seeing a blonde male garda, one of two gardaí who were first to attend the scene, holding a blue plastic bag containing Mr Taylor’s tracksuit bottoms and Adidas runners. She said she saw the same garda at St Vincent’s Hospital later that day with the bag still in his hand containing Mr Taylor’s tracksuit bottoms and runners.

Evidence from eyewitnesses

Eyewitness Eddie McCann gave evidence that he was taking part in a strength and fitness class on the morning of June 5th, when he looked at the gym entrance and noticed a person standing in the hallway dressed as a builder, wearing a yellow hard hat and a high vis jacket.

Mr McCann said he kept staring at the man and was “fixed” on him. “I kept thinking what was going on, his hands were clasped and he had a black thing sticking out between his hands and I said this is not what I think it is, it couldn’t be,” he remarked.

He then realised that the man had a gun in his hand and saw the colour red as Mr Messett “went up and came down”. “I knew right away he was dead and I could see he was sliding down and could see the blood,” he added.

He said the gunman “looked like he didn’t know what he was doing” when he fired shots into the boxing club.

Mr McCann told the jury how he was lying on the ground and believed he would be killed and had thought: “don’t move, don’t breathe, he is coming”.

The fireman also recalled watching a documentary on the shooting of former US president Ronald Reagan to help him locate the entry wound of a bullet that went into Mr Taylor’s body, before he applied pressure to the trainer’s armpit.

Mr McCann said he lifted Mr Taylor’s arm up and could see the entry wound so he kept pressure on it.

In his evidence, gym goer Stephen Kearns said Mr Taylor ran towards the gunman to protect the members of his fitness class as the attacker opened fire. Mr Taylor “put his elbow up” before falling over a bench and dropping to the ground, he said, adding that as the boxing coach was running, the gunman was “firing” towards him.

Ian Britton, who also took part in the fitness class, noticed a figure with a gun in his hand at the entrance door that morning and said the gunman moved the weapon towards Mr Messett before he shot. Mr Britton said he was “in shock” and grabbed his brother Matt Britton onto the floor and pulled his leg up to protect himself. He said he didn’t get “100 per cent down on the ground” as he was stuck behind a bench and then felt “a fierce pain” in his hip area.

Matt Britton testified that he saw a person standing at the door with his legs wide apart and a gun between them. Mr Britton said he heard a shot and dived on the ground for 30 seconds and then heard another ten shots approximately, which were quite loud. “When it went quiet, I lifted my head and the first thing I saw was Bobby in the chair,” he added.

A third brother, Craig Britton, said he chatted to Mr Messett that morning, who told him that he had finished 7th and 4th in two bike races at the weekend. When he heard the first bang over his shoulder, he thought the air compressor machine had blown up as the bag was so loud. He said he looked over his left shoulder towards where the noise was coming from and remembered looking at Mr Messett. He said the deceased’s eyes were rolling back in his head and his hands went up.

Pathologist

Father-of-three Mr Messett died from a single gunshot wound to the head. Retired State Pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy testified during the trial that the absence of secondary projectiles around the bullet’s entry hole indicated that there was a distance of a metre or more between the victim and the shooter when the gun was fired.

Van

The murder trial also heard from a number of witnesses who encountered the van that the prosecution contended was used in the fatal attack that morning.

A Dublin Bus driver told the jury that he saw “a grey or silver Caddy van” travelling “at speed” on the morning of the shooting and it had nearly collided with his vehicle.

Jennifer Byrne testified that she noticed a man with a van “across the way” on the grass at Pigeon House Road that morning. When she left the house at 8.15am, Ms Byrne said that a bicycle was “leant up” against the side of the van, which had foreign registration plates. “As I was getting into the passenger side of the car, I noticed the bicycle and a man wearing a yellow high-vis jacket, who looked like he was leaning down to fix his trousers,” she said.

When Ms Byrne returned to Pigeon House Road at 1.30pm that day she noticed the van was still there. She said her father had been listening to the news and they called gardaí.

Last week, the jury viewed CCTV footage of the shooting at Bray Boxing Club. Detective Garda Alan Thompson said a grey or silver, long-wheelbase van with a registration beginning ‘DFZ’ and with slide rails on both sides and tinted rear windows could be seen outside the boxing club at 6.50am on June 5th. The van driver, who was wearing a cap, dark trousers and a yellow, high visibility vest, got out of the van and went into the boxing club, the garda said.

Det Gda Thompson then took prosecution counsel Paul Murray SC through a CCTV montage using footage taken from various locations in Bray, Shankill, Cabinteely, Deansgrange, Blackrock and Merrion Road leading up to 7.19am on the same morning. In each piece of footage the detective identified a grey or silver, long-wheelbase van and in some of the footage he noted other features including slide rails, tinted rear windows and the ‘DFZ’ registration plate. He also told the jury that when a van of the same description crossed the Merrion Gate level crossing on Merrion Road he noted the driver, the only person visible in the van, wearing an orange top.