Traveller cleared of the murder of cousin

 

A man was found not guilty of the murder of his cousin at the Central Criminal Court yesterday.

A jury of eight men and four women took less than half an hour to bring in a unanimous verdict. They found Mr Patrick Harty (30) not guilty of murder and not guilty to a second charge of possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life.

Mr Harty, a Traveller, Carrowbrowne Halting Site, Headford Road, Galway, had denied the murder of his cousin, Mr Thomas Harty (26), at Woodlands Park Halting Site, Ballymorris Road, Co Laois, over four years ago. He had also denied the possession of a firearm.

The victim, Mr Thomas Harty, was shot dead by two intruders as he slept with his wife and family in their caravan in May 1999.

In an alleged confession to gardaí in July 1999, the defendant said he was forced against his will by his father and brother into driving the getaway car for two men who broke into the victim's caravan and shot him. Neither of the two men was ever charged with murder.

In summing up yesterday, Mr Justice Quirke alerted the jury members to the dangers of convicting someone on uncorroborated evidence and told them they had to be sure Mr Harty's statement was voluntary and true.

The defence counsel, Mr Gerard Clarke SC, told the jury on Wednesday that when Mr Harty was charged with murder and possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, his reply was: "I didn't do it." He also pointed to the witness box evidence of consultant clinical psychologist Ms Deirdre O'Donnell, who described Mr Harty as having a mild to moderate intellectual disability and someone who would be "open to making false statements".

Mr Clarke also told the jury to be "very suspicious" of a wrong statement involving Mr Harty put into the book of evidence. The statement was later changed. "There's something very murky about that change of evidence."

Earlier in the trial the court was told that the shooting of Mr Thomas Harty at point-blank range with a double-barrelled shotgun was the second death to arise out of an ongoing feud between two branches of the Harty family, the 'Nay' Hartys of which Patrick Harty is a member and the 'Donnacha' Hartys of which Thomas Harty was a member.

Counsel for the prosecution, Mr Edward Comyn SC, said there was a "murderous hatred" between them.