Tipperary farmer Patrick Quirke has had an appeal against his conviction for the murder of a local DJ dismissed.
Quirke (51), from Breanshamore, was found guilty two years ago of murdering father-of-two Bobby Ryan (52), known as 'Mr Moonlight', at Fawnagowan in Co Tipperary. A jury at the Central Criminal Court convicted him by a majority verdict after a 71 day trial.
Mr Ryan disappeared on June 3rd, 2011 after leaving the home of Mary Lowry early in the morning. His badly decomposed body was discovered in a disused underground tank almost two years later on farmland leased to Mr Quirke by Ms Lowry.
Quirke previously had an affair with Ms Lowry and the prosecution argued during his trial that he murdered Mr Ryan so he could rekindle their relationship.
Quirke denied the charge and told the trial that he discovered Mr Ryan’s body in the tank on April 30th, 2013 while he was spreading slurry.
An entomologist for the prosecution testified that an insect infestation on Mr Ryan’s body originated at least 11 days earlier and expressed his opinion the first time the tank was opened was not on April 30th, 2013.
Ms Lowry’s evidence at the trial included that her previously amicable relationship with Quirke had deteriorated as her relationship with Mr Ryan advanced into 2011.
She referred to finding Quirke hiding behind her porch door in January 2011 and believed he was the author of a letter to a newspaper agony aunt, published under the heading: ‘I’m bereft now affair with my best friend’s widow is over’.
The trial also heard Quirke made reports to Tusla alleging that Ms Lowry’s children were not being adequately cared for.
Quirke’s appeal against conviction was heard by a three-judge Court of Appeal (COA) in October of last year. On Tuesday, Mr Justice George Birmingham, Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy dismissed the appeal in a judgment extending to more than 100 pages.
Wearing a face mask, grey suit, grey shirt and grey and white striped tie, Quirke watched the delivery of the judgment via video link from Portlaoise Prison, where he is serving a life sentence.
The COA said, while it was clear this was a circumstantial evidence case, the multiple strands to the prosecution case together formed a “very sturdy rope” on which a verdict of guilty could safely be reached by a jury. While the case was “not a straightforward one” and was “finely balanced”, the COA was “firmly of the view” it was one that was properly left to the jury.
Nothing it had heard or read during the appeal caused it to have doubts as to the safety of the verdict or the fairness of the trial, the court said.
The defence had said there were two central themes of the appeal, the first focused on it being a circumstantial evidence case and arguing there was a serious question whether any particular building block of the prosecution case should not have been present. The second theme was, taking all 52 grounds of appeal together, the trial was unsatisfactory.
Rejecting all grounds concerning the evidence of Ms Lowry, the COA said the defence attempt to have her evidence significantly restricted was “unrealistic” and that Quirke was not entitled to insist on the prosecution advancing a “sanitised” version of events. Ms Lowry was perhaps “the central figure” in the trial and her evidence was essential in determining the motive.
This trial was about an allegation that Quirke murdered someone to whom he was “deeply hostile” because that man had interfered with, and indeed, brought an end to his intimate relationship, it said.
The COA also said the defence had argued the height of the prosecution evidence was that Mr Ryan died as a result of blunt force trauma and the matter should have been withdrawn from the jury.
It was argued that the prosecution could not put a particular implement into Quirke’s hand, say how precisely Mr Ryan had met his death, there were no direct admissions from Quirke and he had given no answers during interviews with gardaí that were damaging from his perspective.
The prosecution had argued it could establish this was a violent death and this, combined with the circumstantial evidence, meant the jury could decide on Quirke’s guilt or innocence.
If a jury was prepared to accept Mr Ryan was murdered and his body was retrieved from a concealed location, of which few were aware, that was “of considerable significance”.
At that point, the relationship between Quirke and Ms Lowry, and the later relationship between Ms Lowry and Mr Ryan, becomes “highly significant”.
Evidence of Quirke’s difficulty in accepting his relationship with Ms Lowry had ended, plus the fact he was under financial pressure and financially dependent on her, also became significant and offered “powerful evidence of motive”.
It was at this stage that seemingly “strange and bizarre” actions of Quirke entered the picture, including taking Ms Lowry’s phone, sending text messages to and ringing Mr Ryan, which went close to breaking up the Lowry/Ryan relationship, and contacting the HSE alleging Ms Lowry was guilty of child neglect.
Other “curious” features included Quirke’s decision to utilise a disused tank he had not had reason to access for many years. Material from a computer seized from Quirke’s home indicated a “continuing fixation” with Ms Lowry.
While the failure to refer to computers in information seeking a search warrant for Quirke’s home, or in the warrant itself, was “sub-optimal”, that did not deprive the District Court of jurisdiction to issue it.
The court noted the “extraordinary” number of defence applications made in the absence of the jury who, as a result, were absent from the courtroom half the time. Lawyers should take necessity into account when considering whether to make such applications, it said.
More than 100 witnesses were called in the trial and objection was taken to about two thirds of those, it said.
The court dismissed all grounds of appeal concerning the trial judge’s handling of the case and her charge to the jury. The trial judge had agreed to exclude some specific computer material, including an audio file involving intimacy between Quirke and Ms Lowry, and searches that had taken place in respect of Joe O’Reilly, Siobhán Kearney and Jo Jo Dullard, it noted.