The "most significant" witness in the trial of the man accused of murdering Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe "might have had a lot of motives to make things up", a barrister has told the Central Criminal Court.
Michael O'Higgins SC for Aaron Brady told the jury of six men and seven women that the background to Daniel Cahill giving evidence was "shrouded in mystery" and that he may have been subjected to threats or inducement by Homeland Security before speaking to gardaí. Mr Cahill has told the trial that he heard Mr Brady admit to killing a garda on three occasions. Mr Cahill also revealed that he spoke to gardaí in New York after Homeland Security agents came to his home in circumstances where he had overstayed his 90-day visa waiver by several years.
In his closing speech to the jury Mr O'Higgins also criticised the garda investigation, accusing investigators of closing their eyes to evidence and burying their heads in the sand over evidence that his client was laundering diesel at the time Det Gda Donohoe was shot.
Aaron Brady (29) from New Road, Crossmaglen, Co Armagh has pleaded not guilty to the capital murder of Det Gda Adrian Donohoe who was then a member of An Garda Síochána on active duty on January 25, 2013 at Lordship Credit Union, Bellurgan, Co Louth. Mr Brady has also pleaded not guilty to a charge of robbing approximately €7,000 in cash and assorted cheques on the same date and at the same location.
Mr O’Higgins said he wanted to start with Mr Cahill’s evidence, which he said was the “most significant evidence in the case”.
Counsel asked the jury to consider why, five years after Mr Cahill first claimed to have heard a confession from Aaron Brady, he “falls out of the sky with this evidence” on July 25, 2019 when he gave his first statement to gardaí.
Mr O’Higgins reminded the jury that Mr Cahill told them that he gave evidence because he wanted justice for Detective Garda Donohoe, his family and for the Irish justice system. Counsel said: “The first thing I want to do is stress test that claim.”
Mr O’Higgins said the witness had claimed to know nothing of the murder of Det Gda Donohoe even after he heard Mr Brady make his alleged confessions. Counsel said: “Maybe it’s possible to ignore it the first time and not take it seriously, put it down to drunken rambling, but then there’s the second time. In the internet age would you be mildly curious enough to even google the event. Daniel Cahill didn’t. Didn’t do it after the third or the fourth time. Does that sound to you like someone with a burning desire to do justice?”
Mr O’Higgins questioned why the witness didn’t tell any of his friends in the New York police, who he practiced jiu jitsu with every week, his wife or anyone else.
In his testimony Mr Cahill said that he met a number of gardaí on St Patrick’s Day 2017 who were talking about Det Gda Donohoe and Aaron Brady. Mr Cahill said that he told the gardaí present that Aaron Brady had admitted to him that he killed a garda. Mr O’Higgins suggested this was a lie told by Mr Cahill because he needed to explain why he hadn’t spoken about the alleged confession for so many years.
Had the conversation taken place, counsel said, the gardaí who heard it would have taken Mr Cahill’s details, passed the information up the line until it got to the investigation team and a detective would have taken the next flight to New York to speak to Mr Cahill. “None of that happened,” counsel said, “and it didn’t happen because the conversation was completely invented.”
Mr O’Higgins said the catalyst for Mr Cahill coming forward was “an early morning knock on the door” from eight or nine members of Homeland Security, including an enforcement and removal officer. When this happened, counsel said, Mr Cahill “had an unusual reaction. He took himself off to the attic, naked, and stayed there for a number of hours.” Homeland Security found Mr Cahill and in their search discovered a cannabis plant and steroids. Mr O’Higgins questioned how, in those circumstances, no charges were brought against Mr Cahill in relation to the cannabis and steroids and, despite being a visa overstayer who had not filled out the paperwork to apply for status to remain, Mr Cahill was released.
He reminded them of the evidence of Kerry Bretz, who said that in his 30 years as an immigration lawyer in the US he had never seen that happen. Mr O'Higgins suggested that Mr Cahill "might have had a lot of motives to make things up".
Counsel further asked the jury to consider if it is normal that during the trial Homeland Security refused to answer questions about Mr Cahill’s immigration status or what was said to him when he was detained.
Counsel reminded the jury that Special Agent Mary Ann Wade would not answer questions about Mr Cahill's immigration status or whether he was arrested. He questioned why the Director of Public Prosecutions allowed the witness to dictate what questions she would answer and asked the jury to imagine the gardaí in similar circumstances, refusing to say if Mr Cahill was arrested and refusing to answer questions about his detention.
Mr O’Higgins suggested Mr Cahill was subjected to “inducement, and its Siamese twin, threat.”
He added: “You have a situation which is unprecedented that witnesses will come in here and say, here’s what’s on and off the agenda.” He said such an approach rewrites the rules of a criminal trial in a “radical and unprecedented” way and would be something you might expect to see in a “tinpot dictatorship”.
He also asked the jury whether Mr Cahill was credible in his description of a walk he went on with members of the 32-County Sovereignty Committee during which he posed for a photo unfurling a banner with Vincent Ryan, a dissident republican who was shot dead in 2018. Mr Cahill described it as a community sponsored walk. Counsel asked the jury if, having heard that story, they would buy a used car from Mr Cahill. If they wouldn't, he asked: "How could you rely on him for something that is 1,000 times more important?".
Mr O'Higgins also reminded the jury that Mr Cahill was pictured with Dean Evans 16 days after Det Gda Donohoe was shot dead and 24 days before Mr Evans murdered Peter Butterly outside the Huntsman Inn in Gormanston, Co Meath. He said the photograph was introduced by the defence not to visit Dean Evans's bad character on Mr Cahill, but to call into question his claim that he did not follow the news and did not hear of the shooting of Det Gda Donohoe until years later. He said: "If you are hanging around that milieu of people committing those types of crimes, often in the name of Republican activities, the fact that a garda gets shot is a talking point."
Mr O'Higgins further questioned where Mr Cahill learned his court etiquette, asking: "Did it cross your mind that this was a witness who had been prepared? Who was well aware there would be questions about unfurling banners with the 32 County Sovereignty Committee. " He asked whether Mr Cahill's statement that he was there for justice was a "prepared answer, a soundbite that would inhibit further cross examination." He urged the jury not to rely on Mr Cahill's evidence unless they are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that he is telling the truth.
Molly Staunton told the trial that she was in Mr Brady's New York apartment where she heard him say he had "shot a cop" in Ireland and was one of the most feared men in Ireland.
Mr O'Higgins reminded the jury that under cross examination Ms Staunton gave a different account, saying that Mr Brady was upset that he was being linked with the shooting but not that he had carried it out. When prosecution counsel Brendan Grehan showed her a video of her statement to gardaí, she went back to her original position, counsel said. Mr O'Higgins described Ms Staunton as a witness "who is swinging right to left to right" and said her testimony was unreliable.
Dealing with the defence case, Mr O'Higgins said there is evidence that his client was laundering diesel on the night Det Gda Donohoe was shot. Mr Brady had described his activities in text messages to his then girlfriend Jessica King and there was evidence that a trailer was brought from Dublin that day to Concession Road to be loaded with cubes of diesel waste. He also pointed to phone contacts between Mr Brady and two known fuel launderers and contacts those men had with two other known fuel launderers. He said it was a "no brainer" and a "self evident exercise" to investigate those links to fuel laundering and added: "Yet the State, for some reason or another, will not look, did not look, did not examine."
Counsel also questioned a prosecution suggestion that Mr Brady is a "psychopath", asking the jury to look at his text exchanges with Ms King. A psychopath, counsel said, is someone with no feelings, no moral qualms and who will do whatever they want. In that context he said the jury should look at how he interacted with his girlfriend. He also reminded the jury that Ms King and her family met Mr Brady in the hours after the shooting and said he seemed his normal self, cheerful, cheeky, "not a bother on him".
Mr O’Higgins accepted that his client had told lies and that lies can count against an accused person. But he also told them that people lie for different reasons and in this case, it was to hide his connection to diesel laundering. He asked the jury to consider that if Mr Brady was part of an organised gang who had committed this robbery, why his first false account to gardaí the day after the shooting was so easily pulled apart and contradicted by one of his alleged accomplices. Counsel said an organised gang would have prepared a story before passing through the garda cordon within a short distance of where the robbery had taken place.
He asked the jury to consider Mr Brady’s lies in the context of the “ambiance and atmosphere” of south Armagh and diesel laundering. He added: “It’s against that background that those lies are told.”
Counsel questioned the value of CCTV footage which the prosecution says shows a suspect for the robbery travelling to Clogherhead three nights earlier to steal a Volkswagen Passat that was used as the getaway vehicle. Mr O'Higgins said the CCTV is grainy and the times don't match up to the prosecution's claims.
He described as “flawed” the prosecution’s suggestion that the fact phones belonging to Mr Brady and two suspects in the case went dead around the time of the robbery. Criticising the garda investigation, Mr O’Higgins said gardaí should have investigated his client’s links to diesel laundering in 2013. They had, counsel said, evidence from Jessica King’s phone that he was laundering diesel at the time, they had records that he was in touch with known fuel launderers and they had evidence elsewhere that the yard he mentioned in his statement was being used for diesel laundering.
Counsel accused gardaí of closing their eyes to the evidence and putting their heads in the sand in relation to the site at Concession Road.
Mr O’Higgins will continue his closing speech to the jury on Tuesday.