The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from Tipperary farmer Patrick Quirke against his conviction for the murder of DJ Bobby Ryan.
Quirke (51), from Breanshamore, was found guilty in 2019 of murdering the father of two, known as 'Mr Moonlight', at Fawnagowan in Co Tipperary. A jury at the Central Criminal Court convicted him by a majority verdict of 10:2 after a 71-day trial and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Quirke’s appeal, containing 52 grounds, was dismissed by the Court of Appeal in November.
A three-judge Supreme Court panel said on Wednesday that it will hear a further appeal, considering two issues it has deemed to be of general public importance.
The first relates to the extent of any requirement to identify what might be searched for when applying for a search warrant. The second issue is the discretion the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has in the witnesses she calls in a trial, and in particular expert witnesses in areas of objective or scientific evidence.
Quirke had denied murdering Mr Ryan (52), a part-time DJ going by the name 'Mr Moonlight', who went missing on June 3rd, 2011, after leaving his his partner Mary Lowry's house early in the morning. His body was found nearly two years later in an underground run-off tank on a farm owned by Ms Lowry, which had been leased by Quirke.
The prosecution argued during his trial that Quirke murdered Mr Ryan so he could rekindle an affair with Ms Lowry (52). It was their case that he subsequently “staged” the discovery of Mr Ryan’s body after she tried to terminate his lease.
Quirke told the trial he discovered the DJ’s body in the tank while he was spreading slurry on April 30th, 2013.
An entomologist for the prosecution testified that an insect infestation on Mr Ryan’s body was present at least 11 days earlier and expressed his opinion that the tank had been opened prior to April 30th.
During his trial, the defence team took issue with a search warrant obtained which led to gardaí seizing various items, including a computer, from Quirke’s home. One of the internet searches, conducted in July 2012, was: “A human corpse post-mortem: the stage of decomposition”. A subsequent search asked how DNA works.
Counsel argued that the information given to the District Court judge in obtaining it was too limited, with a specific failure to inform her of the intention of gardaí to seek out and seize computers, which contained personal data of an entire family. The failure to inform the judge circumvented both judicial scrutiny and safeguards against unlawful breaches of constitutional rights, it was argued.
Also to be examined in the appeal is the level of discretion the DPP has in choosing witnesses.
The Office of the State Pathologist's three pathologists were in agreement that the cause of death was blunt force trauma, likely due to vehicular impact trauma. The prosecution's witness, the State Pathologist of Northern Ireland, Professor Jack Crane, agreed on the blunt trauma finding, but he did not believe the evidence supported a conclusion of vehicular impact trauma.
In light of the differing opinions, the defence felt the prosecution should call both Dr Crane and Dr Michael Curtis, on behalf of the Office of the State Pathologist.
The prosecution refused and the defence called Dr Curtis as a witness. The defence later argued the prosecution took advantage of the situation to explore theories that had no real evidential basis.
In their determination, published on Wednesday, Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne, Mr Justice Séamus Woulfe and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said these issues could arise in future criminal trials and it is in the public interest to obtain further clarity.
A date for the appeal has not yet been set.