A senior barrister who allegedly murdered a man with a legally held firearm last month has been denied bail after a judge ruled he has the “means to evade justice”.
Diarmuid Rossa Phelan (53), of Kiltalown Lane, Tallaght, Co Dublin, is accused of murdering Keith Conlon (36) at Hazelgrove Farm, Kiltalown Lane, Tallaght, on February 22nd last.
The fatal shooting is alleged to have happened following an altercation on farmland owned by Mr Phelan, who is a senior counsel and a law lecturer in Trinity College Dublin.
Giving her ruling on a bail application on Monday morning, Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy said Mr Phelan is "not entitled to any greater consideration than any other accused" and rejected a defence plea that he is more likely than other defendants to adhere to bail conditions.
She said Mr Phelan is a “serious flight risk” due to his substantial assets and possession of a US passport.
“People who find themselves in desperate situations will always be tempted to evade the consequences of that situation,” the judge said.
Ms Justice Murphy said that over the weekend she had accessed public company documents showing Mr Phelan has a registered address in Northern Ireland, instead of the Dublin address given to the court.
Mr Phelan, who appeared via video-link from Cloverhill Prison, responded that he used the Northern Ireland address to avoid threats against him at his Dublin home. He said the company document is incorrect and that he lives at the address handed into court.
Defendants enjoy a presumption of entitlement to bail but this presumption can be rebutted, the judge said.
She said the evidence of criminal conduct in the case is “extremely strong”. She noted Mr Phelan told gardaí he was “terrified” by the men, that he shot in the air and was shocked when Mr Conlon went down.
Mr Phelan’s account has been disputed by other witnesses, Ms Justice Murphy said.
The accused has a “powerful incentive to flee”, the judge said, noting he believes he is under threat from others.
She said he has substantial assets, “the full extent of which is not currently known.” Mr Phelan has not filed a disclosure of his income and property, she added.
Ms Justice Murphy said the court is aware Mr Phelan controls a property in the US and that he uses three different addresses in south Dublin. He controls an 180 acre farm in Tallaght and a 45 acre farm in Wexford, both of which are owned by the Northern Ireland registered company. This means the assets could be disposed of without the knowledge of the Irish authorities.
Mr Phelan and his children are also US passport holders. Such a person could potentially cross the Border into Northern Ireland, apply for a new US passport without alerting the Irish authorities and flee to one of several countries without extradition arrangements with Ireland, the judge said.
During the bail hearing last week Defence counsel Michael O’Higgins SC said Mr Phelan is a person who has a greater understanding of having to meet a court order “rather than 99.9 per cent of the population”.
“He stands for something, he has achieved something over the decades and that must count for something,” counsel said.
Mr Phelan told the judge he had no intention of leaving the jurisdiction, saying: “I want to clear this matter because my entire name, reputation and career is dependent on it”.
In her ruling, Ms Justice Murphy rejected the defence application that Mr Phelan’s “illustrious” background means his undertaking to comply with bail conditions should carry more weight. The accused is “not entitled to any greater consideration than any other accused,” she said.
Defence has also told the court Mr Phelan’s life would be ruined if he was not granted bail. “Ruined lives are an unfortunate by-product of every violent death,” Ms Justice Murphy replied in her judgment.
Bail was rejected due to the seriousness of the charge, the strength of the evidence, the likely sentence on conviction, the ongoing threats against the accused and the fact he has the means to evade justice.
The judge said if a way can be found to disclose and freeze Mr Phelan’s assets, the position might be different. “But that is not the current position.”
It is open to Mr Phelan to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeal.