Man loses appeal against murder conviction

Lawyers say jury should have been discharged when witness lunged at man

The judge said none of the grounds caused doubt in the fairness of the trial. File photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

The judge said none of the grounds caused doubt in the fairness of the trial. File photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

 

A gunman who was dressed in women’s clothes when he fired 18 bullets from a sub-machine gun into his innocent victim at a Dublin pigeon club has lost an appeal against his murder conviction.

Christopher McDonald’s lawyers had argued to the three-judge court that the trial judge should have discharged the jury after a witness, Jason “Jay” O’Connor, lunged at and threatened to kill McDonald in open court.

President of the three-judge Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham said Mr O’Connor may have believed himself to have been the intended target of the shooting and that his friend, Keith Walker, “met his death in a case of mistaken identity.”

The judge said the jurors would not have been surprised that Mr O’Connor had strong views about the case and although his behaviour was “unfortunate” and “unacceptable”, the outburst would not have prejudiced the jury against the accused.

McDonald (36) from the East Wall area of Dublin, was found guilty of the murder of Keith Walker (36) by unanimous jury verdict at the Central Criminal Court in 2017. Mr Walker was shot dead soon after he arrived for the start of a pigeon race at the Blanchardstown Pigeon Racing Club on Shelerin Road, Clonsilla, Dublin on June 12th, 2015.

A postmortem revealed that he had been shot 18 times and died from bullet wounds to his head and body. The trial heard that Mr Walker, who had no involvement in criminality, was shot dead as he stood chatting with fellow pigeon racing enthusiasts. He had arrived at the club in a car belonging to Mr O’Connor.

The jury was shown CCTV footage of a person pulling a gun from a handbag and opening fire on Mr Walker.

Witnesses at the scene described the shooter as being dressed as a woman and wearing a long, black wig, while two others said that a man of similar description had earlier asked them for directions to the pigeon club.

Gardaí later found the gun used inside a handbag in a laneway about a kilometre from the club. Alongside the 9mm calibre Makarov sub-machine gun were a black wig and transparent latex glove. McDonald’s DNA was on the wig and glove, both of which also contained traces of firearms residue. When McDonald was arrested a short time after the shooting, gardaí said he had what looked like foundation makeup on his face.

Delivering the decision of the three-judge appeal court on Thursday, Mr Justice Birmingham said the trial judge, Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy, was correct when he said he could give the jury a “straightforward direction” that they should disregard what Mr O’Connor had done.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the trial judge was “fully within his rights to decline to discharge the jury”. He said the incident should not have occurred and Mr O’Connor’s behaviour was “unacceptable” but it would have been clear to the jury that the deceased and Mr O’Connor were friends and that Mr Walker had travelled to the pigeon club in Mr O’Connor’s car.

Mr Justice Birmingham added: “It would be surprising if Mr O’Connor did not find himself wondering if he was, in fact, the intended target of the gunman and that his friend, Mr Walker, met his death in a case of mistaken identity. Jurors would hardly be surprised about the fact that he would have strong views about the case.”

The court also dismissed an issue in relation to the taking of swabs for DNA sampling before McDonald had received legal advice. The court said gardaí can take such samples even when a suspect, on legal advice, refuses permission. There was therefore, Justice Birmingham said, no unfairness to McDonald in taking the samples prior to legal advice.

The court also dismissed a complaint that two witnesses may have discussed their evidence during the trial. The witnesses told the trial they were asked for directions by a man dressed as a woman near to the pigeon club on the day of the shooting.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the witnesses gave limited evidence and did not attempt to identify McDonald.

There was, he said, “no reality” to the arguments made and no surprise that the two would have spoken about the events that had brought them together in the first place.

Mr Justice Birmingham, sitting with Mr Justice John Edwards and Mr Justice Brian Murray, concluded: “None of the grounds advanced by way of written or oral submission have caused us to doubt the fairness of the trial or the safety of the verdict.”