Jury fails to reach verdict in murder trial

Zoltan Almasi charged with 2014 murder of Joseph ‘JoJo’ Dunne

Zoltan Almasi was remanded in custody until july 16th to allow the DPP to provide further directions in the case.

Zoltan Almasi was remanded in custody until july 16th to allow the DPP to provide further directions in the case.

 

A jury has failed to reach a verdict in the trial of a truck driver charged with murdering a 20-year-old with a baseball bat.

It was Zoltan Almasi’s third time to go on trial for the crime at the Central Criminal Court. His first trial resulted in murder conviction, which was subsequently quashed by the Supreme Court.

His second trial also resulted in a disagreement. The 49-year-old has now been in custody for seven years.

Joseph ‘JoJo’ Dunne died in 2014, after receiving a blow to the back of his head, shattering his skull and driving the bone in towards his brain. The Athy student had his back to his assailant and was running away from him at the time.

Zoltan Almasi, a Serbian man with an address at Harbour View, Naas, pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr Dunne, but guilty to his manslaughter at Harbour View on May 16th, 2014.

Neither man had any convictions until Mr Almasi was convicted of murdering Mr Dunne in 2016 and sentenced to life in prison.

The father-of-three appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeal (on grounds that the trial judge should have allowed the defence of provocation to go to the jury).

He lost, but won a subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court, which quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial.

Mr Almasi then went on trial for a second time last year, but a jury was unable to reach a verdict. A third jury was sworn in to try him on May 24th last.

Banging on van

The jury heard that Mr Dunne and a group of teenaged friends were drinking at a bridge in Naas on night of the killing.

Almasi had just come home from work and was about to get into the shower. He heard banging on his Mercedes van, which he had parked outside moments earlier.

Mr Dunne and his friends were on their way to get a bus home when they passed Mr Almasi’s detached house and van.

Mr Dunne’s best friend, Michael ‘Mikey’ McDonagh, testified that he sensed a change in Mr Dunne’s mood after one of the girls left their group that night. He said that the deceased was drunk, and was “shouting and singing” on the way to get the bus, before he challenged another, ‘big, tall’ man to a fight.

That man kept on walking, and the evidence was that the banging on Mr Almasi’s van happened just after this incident.

The accused saw Mr Dunne from an upstairs window, went downstairs, took a baseball bat that had been left in his house by a previous tenant, and went outside. He then chased Mr Dunne away, bat in hand.

CCTV footage captured the last moments of the chase and showed Mr Almasi raising the bat over his head before both disappeared from view.

Mr Almasi testified that he didn’t realise that he had struck Mr Dunne with the bat until he later saw an ambulance and garda car in the area.

By this time, he had parked his van in his garage, taken a shower and was walking through Naas. He said that he was on his way to meet his wife, as previously planned.

However, Mr Almasi had struck Mr Dunne with the tip of the baseball bat to the back of his head. The 20-year-old went to ground immediately as his teenaged friends were ‘frozen’ in shock.

Diners from a nearby restaurant tried to administer CPR and Mr Dunne was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Death was as a result of severe traumatic head injury, and a post-mortem examination found a comminuted, depressed fracture of his skull.

The pathologist, Dr Michael Curtis, said that this was caused by a single blow of the baseball bat, with 4cm of the tip of the bat impacting the head. The bat would have been wielded with some speed, he said, and the force used severe.

Jury retired

The seven men and five women retired to consider their verdict on Monday morning. They had spent six hours and 14 minutes trying to reach a unanimous verdict before being given the option of reaching a majority verdict on Tuesday.

They continued to deliberate during Wednesday and Thursday until Justice White informed them of the option to disagree.

“I would like you to continue to try and agree a verdict of not least 10 of you,” he said. “But if you tell that you’re impossibly deadlocked, the court will allow you to record a verdict of disagreement.”

The jury had deliberated for a total of 13 and 43 minutes before requesting to return to court. The registrar asked the foreperson if the members had reached a verdict and she replied that they hadn’t.

Justice White asked her if it was impossible to take it any further, and she replied, ‘yes’.

“Is there any point giving you more time?” he asked.

“No,” she replied, before writing, ‘Disagreed’ on the issue paper.

The judge then thanked all 12 of them for the time they had given to the five-week trial, and excused them from jury service for life.

He remanded Mr Almasi in custody until July 16th for the DPP’s further directions in the case.