A father-of-eight, who cleaned up and removed blood-stained evidence from his house where 17-year-old Keane Mulready Woods was murdered, had "no inkling" what would happen when he "surrendered" his Drogheda home to an organised criminal group, the Central Criminal Court has been told.
The court heard during Monday's sentence hearing of 52-year-old Gerard McKenna that a blood-stained ballistic vest belonging to the Drogheda teenager was discovered at a nearby burn site along with rubber gloves, a box of Swiss Army knives and part of a sofa.
Evidence was also given that a car parked in a laneway at the back of the accused’s house contained a blood-stained axe and a bone fragment. The keys to that car were also found in McKenna’s house.
The court further heard that the person who ordered McKenna to surrender his house was “a person of very significant notoriety, with a number of murders attributed to him, including that of a close friend”. This person, who has since died, “was not easy to say no to and when they tell you to do something you do it,” submitted defence counsel Michael O’Higgins SC.
The accused, of Rathmullen Park, Drogheda, Co Louth pleaded guilty last November to cleaning up and removing evidence from the scene at or near Rathmullan Park, Drogheda, with intent to impede the apprehension or prosecution of a person or persons, knowing or believing that the said person or persons were guilty of the murder of Keane Mulready Woods on a date unknown between January 12 and 14th, 2020, both dates inclusive.
Keane Mulready Woods was last seen alive in Drogheda on January 12, 2020. The following day, some of the teenager's dismembered body parts were found in a holdall in the Moatview area of Coolock in Dublin.
At Monday's sentencing hearing, Detective Sergeant Peter Cooney detailed the background, telling prosecution counsel Michael Delaney SC that the teenager lived at Marley's Lane in Drogheda with his mother and had been reported missing by her on the afternoon of January 13, 2020. The teenager had been on bail at the time with certain curfew conditions and that was how his mother became aware he was missing. "It was not like him to miss the curfew", said the detective.
Mr Delaney said the teenager was last seen by a number of witnesses at Dominic’s Bridge in Drogheda. CCTV footage showed the teenager getting into a taxi at that location which brought him to the Ballsgrove area, where there are a number of shops. McKenna’s house was within walking distance of the Ballsgrove area.
The detective said “Mr A” was seen paying for the taxi on CCTV footage and the victim went into a Centra shop in the company of that man. Mr Mulready Woods was then seen getting into a navy blue Volkswagen Jetta, which was owned by another individual. Both of these men are suspects in the investigation, he said.
Mr Delaney said the discovery of Mr Mulready Woods remains' were "pretty gruesome". On January 14 at 9.45pm, human remains were found in a sports bag in the Moatview area of Coolock in Dublin by people out walking. Two days later, a skull was located in the boot of a burned out Volvo car near Clonliffe Road by a member of Dublin Fire Brigade, who had arrived at the scene to put out the fire. Part of the teenager's torso was located last year at a location quite close to Rathmullen Park. The cause of death could not be ascertained, he said.
At 4.50pm on January 14, a search was carried out at McKenna’s house and he was present at the time. Immediately, there was a strong smell of paint when gardaí entered the two-bedroom council house and a technical examination was carried out over a number of days.
Gardaí learned that the scene had been cleaned up by painting, while part of the floor in the lounge had been replaced. Despite the clean-up, blood-staining including splatter and cast-off staining was evident throughout the house in a number of different locations. Swabs taken from these locations matched the victim’s blood. There was blood splatter spanning along the bottom of a window, a leg of the television stand and the front area of a Sky box. The blood extended to the side of the television and to the fireplace. There was also cast off blood-staining on the internal hot press door and on the ceiling in the lounge.
The detective said a blood-stained couch was found in the backyard of the house, which matched the victim’s DNA. The court heard Mr Mulready Woods had been assaulted within the lounge area of the house.
Gardaí also discovered the remains of a fire in the Ballsgrove area, which is not far from McKenna’s house. The fire was probably lit early on January 14, said the detective, and items were later recovered from the fire including part of the “L shaped sofa” from the defendant’s house, a rubber glove and a ballistics stab vest as well as a box of Swiss Army knives, both with the victim’s blood on them.
A pair of jeans and a jacket belonging to McKenna were found in his house and they also had the victim’s blood on them.
A red Toyota Corolla car was also parked at the back of the defendant's house, while the keys were found inside the house. In the boot of the car, gardaí located a number of items containing the victim's blood including an axe with blood on its handle and a pair of socks. A bone fragment was also located on the back passenger seat.
Mr Delaney said McKenna was out of his home from lunchtime on January 12 and had met some men in a cafe in the centre of Drogheda. The next night, the accused went to a man’s home near his house and this man had provided three statements to gardaí.
In the first statement, the man said he recalled McKenna being in his living room with a big packet of pink pills. “He was acting very different to the way he usually acts and talking funny. His two legs were hopping. He said he could have been down there cut up. I didn’t have a clue what he was on about. While ranting he was also crying. I’d no idea what that meant when he said he could have been cut up,” the man told gardaí.
McKenna was arrested on February 20 and brought to Drogheda Garda Station. The court heard he was taken to hospital on two occasions during his detention.
During his 15 interviews McKenna denied painting his house and laying the new floor. He then said “they” gave him money to buy paint without specifying who “they” were.
When asked to account for the objects in the fire, McKenna said: “I didn’t know the child had a vest. We were told to burn the bags, I didn’t know what was in them. I was told to burn the settee. You said it was an abattoir, it was clean. I was told what to do. I wanted to save my kids, I had to do it for my kids. I was told to clean the house but it was already cleaned”.
McKenna told gardaí he had carried out “the instructions” under duress.
The defendant has seven children with his wife and subsequently had a child from a more recent relationship.
Mr Delaney told the court the maximum sentence for such an offence is ten years in prison.
The court heard McKenna has 14 previous convictions which include violent disorder, theft and burglary.
Under cross-examination, the detective agreed with defence counsel Mr O’Higgins that the “rather tragic and very harrowing circumstances” in which the victim lost his life arose where Mr Mulready Woods was “lured” to his client’s house at Rathmullen Park by members of an organised criminal gang.
Mr O’Higgins put it to the witness that the motive was “apparently something very petty” but the detective replied: “No, there may be more to it”.
The detective also agreed with the barrister that McKenna was not a member of the gang but was “someone who could be relied upon”. “Gardaí were satisfied he had no inkling of what would take place when he surrendered his house, he obviously did it knowing something bad would happen but no specifics,” said Mr O’Higgins.
The witness also agreed that the defendant was not in his house during any of the relevant period and that he had spoken about matters surrounding the disappearance of the teenager, the person responsible and the use of his house by the men.
In his interviews, McKenna said he got the “shock of his life” when he walked into his house and saw “the mess”. Mr O’Higgins asked the witness if there was still a lot of blood visible to the naked eye when the clean up was done. The detective replied: “I would say staining”.
The court heard McKenna has a long standing and significant history of abusing prescribed medicine. He was “off his head on” Xanex after he was involved in the clean-up and had previously taken cocaine, said Mr O’Higgins.
The detective said when McKenna was asked by gardaí about the people involved, he said he could not tell as they would kill and “mince” his child.
McKenna told gardaí he did not know why he took “the call”. The detective agreed with Mr O’Higgins that this person, who is now dead, was of very significant notoriety and had a number of murders attributed to him including that of a very close friend.
The detective agreed that “these people” are not easy to say no to and one does what they say.
In his submissions, Mr O’Higgins said his client had expressed very significant remorse and remained very ashamed of his actions. His children and siblings, he said, had faced some backlash from his actions.
Mr Justice Paul McDermott remanded McKenna in custody until March 8, when he will be sentenced.