A man who was previously acquitted by direction of IRA membership has been found guilty by the Special Criminal Court of disrupting the garda investigation into the "execution-type" murder of dissident republican Peter Butterly.
Ray Kennedy (41) of Whitestown Drive, Blanchardstown, Dublin 15, had been accused of perverting the course of justice by destroying a mobile phone SIM card on March 6th, 2013, an item the State has said "would have been of very significant evidential value" to the murder investigation.
It was Kennedy’s second trial in connection with the murder. In December 2019, after a 36-day trial, the non-jury court directed that Kennedy be found not guilty of IRA membership after gardaí refused to release secret material in the case, despite a court ruling that it should be disclosed.
It was stated that Mr Kennedy had been at the scene of the murder and had been the State’s case that his mobile was in contact with a burner phone, which was connected to the killing of the 35-year-old.
Mr Paul O’Higgins SC, prosecuting, had told the judges that there was no other explanation but that Mr Kennedy had a “guilty involvement of some kind” in the incident, when he “wholly and intentionally destroyed” the SIM card at the scene of the killing.
Mr Butterly, a father of three, was shot dead shortly after 2pm in the car park of the Huntsman Inn at Gormanston, Co Meath, on March 6th, 2013, in view of students waiting for their school bus. He died from gunshot wounds to his neck and upper back.
Kennedy had told gardaí that he “panicked” at the scene of the murder and decided to destroy the SIM card by snapping it in two at disposing of it at the car park of the pub after being “pressured” for the phone by a detective.
In interviews, Kennedy denied luring Butterly to the scene and said that Butterly was his friend.
Delivering judgement, Mr Justice Hunt said that phone information from Kennedy's handset was lawfully seized by gardaí and that there was no breach of his right to privacy, as his defence team had contended in legal argument.
The defence had also argued that there was an issue with Kennedy’s arrest, which the court also rejected.
Mr Justice Hunt said that Mr Butterly was murdered in broad daylight in an “execution-type murder”. The judge said that members of the Garda surveillance unit had been operating in the area and were almost immediately at the scene.
Four men - Kevin Braney (44), of Glenshane Crescent, Tallaght, Dublin 24; Edward McGrath (37), of Land Dale Lawns, Springfield, Tallaght; Sharif Kelly (49), of Pinewood Green Road, Balbriggan and Dean Evans (27), of Grange Park Rise, Raheny, Dublin - have all already received life sentences at the Special Criminal Court following convictions for Mr Butterly's murder.
Two other men, Michael McDermott (60), of Riverdale House, Garrymore, Ballinagh, Co Cavan and Frank Murphy (59), of McDonagh Caravan Park, Triton Road, Bettystown, Co Meath, who played roles in the murder of Mr Butterly, have also been jailed.
Those involved operated with “advanced levels of planning and preparation”, said the judge.
Kennedy’s trial heard that the accused contacted Butterly to meet at 2.30pm to exchange paperwork for cars.
At the time of the shooting, Kennedy could be seen on CCTV at the Applegreen petrol station in Drogheda, Co Louth.
Outlining the case, Mr Justice Hunt said that Kennedy appeared at the scene of the murder at around 2.35pm and was approached by gardaí.
Kennedy did not wish to give gardaí a statement at the scene about meeting Mr Butterly due to the growing presence of the media and gardaí. He then, however, gave a statement at the Gormanston military camp but refused to sign it.
Kennedy told gardaí that he had removed the SIM card from his phone and destroyed it at the Huntsman’s car park but said that he would have handed it over had he not been panicked by the approach of a detective looking for his phone.
Despite searches, the SIM card was never recovered from where Kennedy said he discarded it.
Kennedy told gardaí that he was responsible for bringing Mr Butterly to the scene in order to meet with him.
However, he said that he did not lure his “friend” to the location and said “I wouldn’t set him up”.
Mr Justice Hunt said that there was a link between Kennedy’s phone and the burner phone used in the organisation of the murder, which was recovered from another male’s house.
The judge said the prosecution argued that Kennedy’s account of the location of the SIM had been inconsistent and that he had removed it because of the connection to the burner phone.
The prosecution had also contended that Kennedy’s excuse of panic was “not remotely credible” and that it remained unclear throughout the trial as to why he would have panicked.
The judge said that he was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Kennedy’s actions were a calculated attempt to minimise his involvement in the investigation and that the court found him guilty.
The judge granted Kennedy bail, due to his “unusual family circumstances” where he has a young child who is “quite unwell”.
The judge warned, however, that if Kennedy were to abuse the bail in any way that it would be taken as an aggravating factor in sentencing. He then adjourned the matter to June 21th for sentencing.