Life sentence for murdering man who was in 'wrong place at wrong time'

 

A 20-YEAR-OLD Limerick man has been jailed for life after being found guilty of murdering a young man who “was in the wrong place at the wrong time” in December 2009.

A jury unanimously convicted Kenneth Collopy of the murder of Daniel Fitzgerald at Ballysimon in Limerick, following just over two hours of deliberations at the Central Criminal Court yesterday.

Collopy, of Kilonan, Ballysimon, had denied murdering the 25 year old, who was shot in the back of the head and leg as he left his uncle’s home following a family visit there.

Before the verdict was read out, Collopy looked at his mother and shook his head.

When he was found guilty, his mother called out “Kenneth I love you, no matter what happens.” She left the courtroom while Mr Justice Barry White handed down the mandatory life sentence.

Daniel’s father, Noel Fitzgerald, asked if he could remain standing in the witness box while reading out the victim impact statement on behalf of his wife, two sons and daughter.

He said his son had been “shot over something he was oblivious to. Apparently someone burnt a van with some clothes in it for a market stand . . . this was the justification for the death of our son, has life become so cheap?”

The defence had argued that Collopy had only intended to fire at the Fitzgeralds’ home after he had been mistakenly led to believe that a member of the family was responsible for an arson attack on his mother’s van, which had been filled with clothes she sold in a market. Mr Fitzgerald said his son had never been involved in any wrongdoing, and had “absolutely no criminal record or connections whatsoever”.

He said Daniel had been loyal and trustworthy. His best friend was the professional boxer, Andy Lee.

At the time of his death, Daniel had mastered two trades, as a paver and stainless steel fabricator. Mr Fitzgerald said it was ironic he was in a courtroom on the banks of the Liffey, close to where his son had worked installing equipment for the making of the black stuff.

“Sometimes I scroll down through the numbers on my phone and his number comes up. I am tempted to ring it, even though I know it would be futile. He is gone and he has left a terrible void in our lives.”

During the two-week trial, the court heard from eye-witnesses who were in a Toyota Corolla with Collopy when he drove it into the Fitzgeralds’ yard and fired up to 17 shots from a Glock semi-automatic handgun.

David Bussoli, who was in the passenger seat, said Collopy told him to put back his seat and roll down the window. He said he saw Daniel Fitzgerald walk towards the car before Collopy opened fire, and saw him fall to the ground as the car sped off.

They then went to Collopy’s house where he was ordered to remove his clothes and Collopy burned them.

Mr Justice White declared Mr Bussoli a hostile witness because he claimed he could remember nothing of the evening when he took the witness stand.

The jury had to be shown a recording of the statement he made to gardaí. The judge directed that a file be sent to the DPP so he can consider prosecuting Mr Bussoli for perjury.

Speaking to reporters outside the court, as his wife clutched a framed photograph of their son, Mr Fitzgerald repeated that his son had no involvement in criminality, saying he had spent his formative years in London, away from “that environment”.

Asked about the apparent motive for the shooting, Mr Fitzgerald said: “My son was worth an awful lot more than a van with some clothes in it . . . Life can’t become cheap. This crime has become too commonplace.”

Mr Fitzgerald said his family had found the trial very harrowing, but had got the result they wanted. “It means we can move on. Obviously Daniel can’t be brought back, but his name has been cleared in the court. We just have to move on and not be victims forever of Kenneth Collopy,” he said