Judge accused of intimidating witnesses


A High Court judge was yesterday accused of intimidating witnesses in a Limerick murder trial after he warned two of them they could face life imprisonment if they commit perjury.

In the Central Criminal Court, Mr Liam Keane (19), Singland Gardens, Ballysimon, Limerick, has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Eric Leamy (19), St Munchin's Street, St Mary's Park, Limerick, on August 28th, 2001 at Lee Estate, Island Road, Limerick.

Yesterday defence counsel Mr John Phelan SC accused Mr Justice Carney, of making "veiled threats" and attempting to intimidate witness Mr Stephen Blackhall, who the judge had warned against self-incrimination.

Mr Blackhall is one of five witnesses who have been declared hostile after they refused to testify or gave evidence contradicting earlier Garda statements. One of the five witnesses was also held in contempt, as the trial entered its third day.

Mr Justice Carney said the entire transcript in the trial is being sent to the DPP to examine what, if any, offences have been committed by prosecution witnesses.

Mr Blackhall, in a detailed Garda statement, alleged that he saw the accused man stab Mr Leamy in the side before running away and that Mr Leamy was unarmed.

However, on the stand the witness denied having said this and claimed he was not there at all.

In a heated exchange with the judge, Mr Phelan said: "Your lordship is attempting to intimidate the witness into retracting what he said on oath." Seeking to have the jury discharged, counsel added that comments such as "perjury", "life imprisonment" and "five years" could prejudice the jury.

However, Justice Carney retorted that it was his duty to issue a warning against self-incrimination and he felt it necessary that this be done.

"There isn't a single word of admissible evidence against your client. I'm not going to treat the jury as simpletons," he said.

Another witness, Mr Tony McMillan, also received a self-incrimination warning after he denied making a statement saying he also saw the accused man stab Mr Leamy.

If the witness felt his answers would render him liable, he should decline to answer, advised the judge. When asked if he fully understood, Mr McMillan said he did.

Portions of his statement were then read to the jury. However, when Mr Shane Murphy SC, prosecuting, asked the witness if it was true, he said it was not.

"I didn't say those words," Mr McMillan said.

"You did," counsel suggested.

"I didn't," the witness replied.