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What led to this Irishman’s exoneration, 74 years after he was executed?

Inconsistencies in medical evidence and several failings during the trial were identified in the case.

ON 19 DECEMBER 2015, President Michael D Higgins signed Ireland’s first posthumous pardon, exonerating Harry Gleeson who had been executed in 1941.

Gleeson was convicted of the murder of Mary McCarthy, a single mother of seven children whose body was found in a field on Gleeson’s uncle’s farm in Tipperary. The woman had been shot in the face.

All along, Gleeson maintained he was innocent of this crime and those legally representing him remained convinced of his innocence long after his execution.

On foot of a submission from the Innocence Project Ireland and the Justice for Harry Gleeson group, the Attorney General ordered a review of the case which was undertaken by Shane Murphy and serious deficiencies in the conviction were found.

In a statement today, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald outlined the various failings identified, which eventually led to his pardon.

Inconsistencies in the medical evidence and the purported time of death.

Although there was a degree of uncertainty at the trial surrounding the time of death, the prosecution’s case was that Mary McCarthy was murdered on the evening of 20 November 1940. Gleeson did not have an alibi for portions of the evening of 20 November.

Murphy considered that the medical evidence at the trial did not show beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder occurred on this evening, but rather it was highly probable that the woman was killed on 21 November. Gleeson had an alibi for this day and witness evidence as to Gleeson’s whereabouts on the morning of 21 November would have raised a reasonable doubt as to his guilt.

A failure by the prosecution to comply with the obligation to assure a fair trial.

This is in relation to the decision taken not to call Gleeson’s aunt and uncle to give evidence. The Ceasars, in whose home he lived, were material witnesses in relation to a number of issues in the trial. The garda file suggests that the Ceasars were considered by the gardaí to be truthful witnesses, but that it was considered preferable that they would be called by the defence, thereby allowing the prosecution to cross-examine them and in so doing, to gain a tactical advantage.

The Ceasars did not give evidence at the trial. This fact attracted judicial comment at the latter stages of the trial in a manner which was prejudicial to Gleeson.

The apparent non-disclosure to the defence or to the court and jury of a garda statement.

This statement related to a confrontation which allegedly occurred at the McCarthy’s farm during the garda investigation between Gleeson and two of the McCarthy children. If it had been disclosed to the defence, it would have suggested that this was staged by gardaí and was being used to unfairly prejudice the accused in the eyes of the jury.

The prosecution introduced evidence from a garda witness in relation to this confrontation which had not been given by the children in their testimony at the trial.

The garda witness evidence did give the court at trial the true picture of how the confrontation had occurred. In particular, it did not reveal the details of contact by members of An Garda Síochána with two of the children before the confrontation – contact which might have prompted the defence to explore whether these witnesses had been coached.

The failure by the prosecution to introduce evidence in relation to the shotgun register held by the shopkeeper who sold Mr Ceasar his ammunition.

The shotgun register tended not to support the prosecution’s case that Ceasar had, in October 1940, purchased ammunition of a calibre consistent with the type of ammunition used to murder Mary McCarthy. This was material which ought to have been available to the jury.

More generally, Murphy concluded in his review that, in his opinion, Gleeson was convicted and executed as a result of a case based on unconvincing circumstantial evidence, and that he considered the issues outlined by him to be grave defects in the administration of justice.

Today the minister said it is a matter of the greatest concern that such grave defects occurred, and “the terrible consequences of this failure on the part of our criminal justice system cannot be overstated”.

“As Minister for Justice and Equality, and on behalf of the Government, I wish to express profound sympathy with Mr Gleeson’s family and deep regret at this miscarriage of justice,” she added.

Read: Harry Gleeson granted Ireland’s first posthumous pardon, 74 years after his execution>

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