Murder trial collapses amid concern juror overheard garda discussion

Damien Singleton is accused of murdering Peter Donnelly on O’Connell Street, Dublin in 2019

The trial of a man accused of murder in Dublin city centre has collapsed after a juror said they believed they had overheard gardaí­ discussing witness statements in the courtroom. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

The trial of a man accused of murder in Dublin city centre has collapsed after a juror said they believed they had overheard gardaí­ discussing witness statements in the courtroom. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

 

The trial of a man accused of murder in Dublin city centre has collapsed after a juror said they believed they had overheard gardaí­ discussing witness statements in the courtroom.

Damien Singleton (30) is accused of murdering Peter Donnelly on O’Connell Street on June 11th, 2019. His trial began on Monday at the Central Criminal Court before Ms Justice Tara Burns.

Mr Singleton, of no fixed abode, pleaded not guilty to the murder of his friend but pleaded guilty to a charge of manslaughter.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margot Bolster told the court that Mr Donnelly (39), originally from Kilkenny, died due to stabbing injuries inflicted upon him.

The court viewed CCTV footage from the early hour showing Mr Donnelly being stabbed three times and struck with a bottle by a man, who then ran away.

The case was held in Court 9 in the Criminal Courts of Justice, where under Covid-19 health and safety guidelines, six jurors were seated in the jury box, which usually seats 12, while the other six were located in the body of the court.

Before the case resumed on Friday, the jury foreman passed a note to Ms Justice Burns raising issues on behalf of jurors sitting in the body of the court who said they were having difficulty hearing the witnesses.

Partial conversations

The note also said that “worryingly” a juror believed he had overheard partial conversations between gardaí­ about witness statements. The jury was given a break at that point so the note could be read to the prosecution and defence.

The judge said that jurors also felt there were mobile phone distractions and that those not sitting in the jury box due to health and safety protocols, had difficulties hearing witnesses. The note also said that “chatting” in the body of the court had distracted jurors and that “gardaí­ were partially heard in the position behind [the defence counsel] discussing witness statements”.

Lorcan Staines SC, prosecuting, said there were only two gardaí­ permanently present in the court for “logistical reasons” and that they “absolutely did not discuss witness statements”. However, he said that they possibly discussed witness attendance due to their role as witness and evidence managers in the case.

Mr Staines said the problem raised by the jury’s note was that an impression had been formed within the panel that one member believed he had heard gardaí­ discussing witness statements.

Ms Justice Burns said the situation was “very unfortunate” and that a juror was “not [sitting] in a good position” for the trial. She added that she had “concerns” about the seating allocation for jurors in the courtroom.

Michael Bowman SC, defending, and Mr Staines said there was no impropriety implied in relation to the gardaí present in the trial, who the former added were “a model of professionalism”.

Discharged

When the jury of eight men and four women was recalled by Ms Justice Burns, she told them that “unfortunately” they would have to be discharged.

She thanked them for bringing their issues to her and said she had been keeping an eye out for a juror to alert her to difficulties hearing witnesses during the trial, but this had not occurred.

The judge said the seating issues raised would be passed on to the Courts Service for consideration.

Ms Justice Burns said it was an “extremely unsatisfactory” situation for all concerned that the jury had to be discharged at this stage but that it would be inappropriate for them to continue in the case in the circumstances.

The judge fixed Monday for the case to be re-listed for mention.