Man accused of murder denies knowing blow with bat to other man was fatal

Man pleads not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter of other man on street

The man accused of murder told the court he wanted to defend himself and his car. File photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

The man accused of murder told the court he wanted to defend himself and his car. File photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

 

A murder accused, who hit a 20-year-old man a fatal blow with a baseball bat, has denied knowing he had done “a terrible thing” when he left the scene.

The truck driver, who had chased the deceased away from his van, was being cross-examined by the State about why he had gone to meet his wife afterwards.

Zoltan Almasi (49), a Serbian man with an address at Harbour View, Naas, is spending a second day in the witness box in the Central Criminal Court on Thursday. He has pleaded not guilty to murdering Kildare man Joseph Dunne, but guilty to his manslaughter at Harbour View on May 16th, 2014.

The trial has heard that Mr Dunne died after receiving a single blow to the back of his head, shattering his skull and driving the bone in towards the brain.

Mr Almasi testified on Wednesday that he had gone out with a baseball bat to chase a number of people, who had been hitting and kicking his van, and not with the intention of causing harm. He then returned home, had a shower and went to another house to meet his wife, as arranged.

Caroline Biggs SC began cross-examining him on behalf of the prosecution on Thursday.

She reminded him of the pathologist’s evidence that the force was so severe that broken bits of bone were driven into Mr Dunne’s brain.

“I’m going to suggest that Mr Almasi would have felt that impact when he hit Mr Dunne with his baseball bat,” she said.

“I admit the baseball bat touched his head but I don’t know how it happened,” he replied through an interpreter.

Counsel suggested that he was not telling the truth when saying he didn’t remember the impact.

“That’s just your opinion,” he replied.

Mr Almasi agreed that he had heard the pathologist saying that the impact from a weapon was determined by two factors.

“I wonder if the baseball bat could be produced to Mr Almasi, please?” asked Counsel.

The bat was brought to the witness box and a Garda officer offered the accused gloves with which to handle it.

“I don’t want to touch it,” he said.

“Mr Almasi doesn’t have to touch it if he doesn’t want to,” said Mr Justice Mcihael White.

Ms Biggs reminded the accused that the pathologist had described it as fairly light, and had said that the faster it is swung, the more force is delivered.

“You are the person who delivered that force,” she suggested.

“Yes,” he agreed.

“You are the person who swung that bat with such ferocity that it caused the damage to JJ Dunne’s head. And you still tell the jury you did not feel anything when it impacted on Mr Dunne’s head?” she asked.

He repeated that he didn’t feel it.

“Did you hear anything?” she asked.

“No,” he replied.

Mr Almasi said that this included not hearing a witness, who was outside a nearby restaurant, calling out in a high-pitched voice: “Stop, please, stop.”

“Is that because you were so hellbent on doing damage to JJ Dunne, you didn’t hear anything else?” asked Ms Biggs.

“No,” he replied, adding that nobody else had heard this either.

Mr Almasi earlier testified that he had gone out with a baseball bat to chase a number of people, who had been hitting and kicking his van, and not with the intention of causing harm. He denied knowing he had done ‘a terrible thing’ when he left the scene to meet his wife afterwards.

Ms Biggs SC asked him to look at the CCTV footage of him leaving the area to meet his wife that night.

“When we look at him for 22.43, I suggest, he’s not thinking about going to his wife’s for dinner… What he’s actually thinking about is that he’s done a terrible thing and he’s panicking,” said Ms Biggs, addressing his interpreter.

“No,” he replied, adding that he first realised that something bad had happened when he was enroute to his wife’s house.

Counsel then asked him about the route he took.

“Can you explain to the jury why you took a route that was 1,160 metres, as opposed to the 680-metre route you could have taken?” she asked.

“I never wanted to meet again that group,” he replied.

She asked why, if he was concerned about this group, he hadn’t called the gardai from the safety of his home 20 minutes earlier.

“They never turn up,” he replied, referring to previous occasions when he said he had called gardai due to trouble on the street outside his home.

Ms Biggs will continue her cross examination on Friday before Mr Justice White and a jury of seven men and four women.

Army

On Wednesday, Mr Almasi told his trial that he deserted the army when the war broke out in his native Yugoslavia, because he “didn’t want to take part in killing”.

He told his barrister, Barra McGrory QC, that he identifies as Serbian now “as there’s no Yugoslavia anymore”. He said that he left that country when the war broke out in 1990.

“I was in the army… I had no choice. They came in the night time and they took us,” he said, explaining that he was conscripted.

“I didn’t want to take part in killing people,” he continued. “When we realised, not only me but the other people too, what was going on in that war, we just escaped. We ran away.”

He explained that he had gone to Hungary, where he had three daughters, but left for Ireland in 2007, after divorcing.

A carpenter and joiner, he initially got work here making furniture, but changed to truck driving when the furniture company closed.

He married again in 2010, and he and his wife and her son eventually moved to Harbour View in Naas.

“At the beginning, everything was ok,” he said. “After a while, the neighbourhood changed in a bad way… People were drinking, using drugs, fighting and shouting in the street in the night time... There was a lot of fighting and a stabbing.”

Mr Almasi said that he had thought that this stabbing had occurred near his home, but since learned that it happened elsewhere.

He said that people used to climb on roofs and throw stones at his and other houses. He said that he and his wife called the gardaí, but that they never came.

The accused also explained that he drove a van, as opposed to a car, because he used to take his two English bulldogs to dog shows to sell their pups. Sometimes the shows were 100km away.

When he arrived home from work on the night of the killing, he said he parked his van outside his garage rather than inside, because he planned to go out to meet his wife again straight after his shower.

Van

He said that he was in his bedroom to the front of the house when he heard somebody hitting his van.

“When I heard the noises, I went to the window and saw that a few people are hitting my car,” he said. “One of the guys was hitting the back of my van. The other guy was kicking the side of the van.”

Mr Almasi said that he put his trousers back on and went downstairs.

“I took the baseball bat and I went out,” he said, referring to a bat that had been left in the house by previous tenants.

Mr McGrory asked how he felt when he heard his van being attacked.

“I was angry,” he replied.

He was asked why he took the baseball bat.

“At the time, the area wasn’t a good area,” he replied. “I went out to defend myself and my car and to chase them away.”

He said that the people involved started to run when he went out, and that he followed them.

“What were you thinking when you were following them?” asked Mr McGrory.

“Just to chase them away from my van,” he replied.

Mr Almasi was asked if he could recall whether he struck Mr Dunne with the bat.

“I have been in prison for seven years and I’m thinking about this every day, how could this happen. I still don’t know when I hit it and how I hit it,” he said.

However, he said that he had seen the CCTV footage and heard what the pathologist had said, and he accepted that he had hit him.

He said that he went back into his house, showered and drove to his wife’s home, as arranged. However, he said that he saw the gardaí and ambulance on the journey and explained to his wife that he had to return to Harbour View.

When he got home, the area was sealed off.

“At that time, I didn’t know what happened to him,” he said of Mr Dunne. “I found out at the Garda station. The Garda told me.”

Counsel asked if he accepted that he had caused what happened.

“I agree that it was my fault,” he said. “I’m thinking every day. I have been seeing a psychologist for three years. I feel very sorry for what happened. I didn’t want somebody to die.”

Mr Almasi was asked if he had intended to cause any harm to Mr Dunne when he chased him.

“Never, no,” he responded.