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Man accused of murdering Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe 'wore the shooting like a badge of honour'

Aaron Brady is a “skilled and practiced liar”, the Central Criminal Court has been told.

Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe
Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe
Image: Garda Press Office

THE MAN ACCUSED of murdering Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe “wore the shooting like a badge of honour” when he moved to America and believed he was “beyond the long arm of the law”, a barrister has told the Central Criminal Court.

Lorcan Staines SC, for the prosecution, in his closing speech told the jury that the accused man, Aaron Brady, is a “skilled and practiced liar” who told a “litany of lies” to gardaí and to the jury for his own advantage.

He said that when Brady moved to America he used the shooting of Donohoe to “intimidate and curry influence” and talked about it in front of a number of people on different occasions, “sometimes crying, lamenting in drink or bragging with his chest puffed out”.

He said Brady was confident that nobody would speak up when gardaí arrived in New York to investigate. Counsel added: “He was wrong about that. Not all the people he talked to about this were willing to turn the other way. Two came to give evidence.”

Staines also described the deceased as a “good man, a good husband, father, brother son, he was a member of his community, he was a colleague”. He said that when Brady pulled the trigger, “he knew he was pulling that trigger at a member of An Garda Síochána.”

Aaron Brady (29), from New Road, Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, has pleaded not guilty to the capital murder of Donohoe who was then a member of An Garda Síochána on active duty on 25 January 2013 at Lordship Credit Union, Bellurgan, Co Louth.

Brady has also pleaded not guilty to a charge of robbing approximately €7,000 in cash and assorted cheques on the same date and at the same location.

Staines told the jury that the prosecution relies on circumstantial evidence, which he described as a series of matters that on their own could simply be coincidence. He added: “It’s your personal tolerance when coincidence is put on top of coincidence until there comes a point that it is an affront to common sense that all these little things are coincidence.”

He reminded the jury that Brady described himself as a victim of a garda campaign and the media. Counsel said it would be “easy to ridicule that” but he wanted to look at it coldly and dispassionately and ask, “could this all be a mistake, a lot of bad luck, a lot of strange circumstances that could happen?”

He pointed to evidence that he said shows two associates of Brady who can’t be identified, Suspect A and Suspect B, travelling to Clogherhead three days before events at Lordship Credit Union to steal a Volkswagen Passat that was used in the robbery and fatal shooting.

If this were just coincidence, he said, CCTV from Clogherhead around the time the Volkswagen was stolen from outside a house in the village would not have shown Suspect A’s distinctive BMW 5-series with a modified roof but another BMW 5-series with a modified roof.

He said further CCTV footage showing Suspect A’s BMW with the passenger side window down while it passed through Lordship hours before the robbery would not be evidence of a scoping exercise. The specific time when Brady has said he was alone and laundering diesel “happened to coincide” with the time that a separate gang of local men were planning to rob Lordship Credit Union.

He said the jury would have to believe that all the phones belonging to Brady, Suspect A and Suspect B were inactive for “innocent reasons” for more than two hours at a time that “coincides perfectly with the robbery at Lordship Credit Union”.

He suggested a series of phone calls between Brady and Suspect B at relevant times would have to be further coincidence and it would be a coincidence that a BMW 5-series was seen passing an area close to where the Volkswagen was burned out shortly after the robbery.

A further coincidence would be that Suspect A’s father’s car was seen travelling at speed close to Lordship shortly after the robbery. The burn site, off a remote country lane in south Armagh, was also used six months earlier as a dump site for laundered diesel by someone driving a van that Brady is known to have driven.

Counsel asked the jury to consider the further coincidence that Brady, Suspect A, Suspect B and Suspect A’s brother “fled to all corners of the world” shortly after the shooting. It would, counsel said, also have to be coincidence that Daniel Cahill and Molly Staunton said that Brady had confessed to shooting a garda in the course of a robbery while he lived in America.

Cahill, who said he heard Brady admit to shooting a garda on three occasions, would have to have done so out of personal animus or because he was under threat from Homeland Security, Staines said. While Staunton, “an American citizen with no animus whatsoever mistakenly told you what you heard”.

Staines concluded: “Is that reasonably possible? That would be some string of unfortunate events. The prosecution leaves that determination in your hands.”

Devastation

Staines began by telling the jury that this trial has been unusual in that the jury has heard more than 60 days of evidence over six months during “times that are highly unusual for the country”.

He said there has been tension among the parties in court and emotion on display. “The devastation that is caused by the death of Donohoe is hard to imagine,” he said, adding: “He was a good man, a good husband, father, brother, son. He was a member of his community, he was a colleague and there are significant emotions attached to all of that.”

But he said the jury has to put all that aside and engage in a “cold hard analysis of the evidence.”

The motive for the robbery at Lordship, counsel said, was a “base criminal motive, the pursuit of money through violence”.

He said Brady was under money pressure in January 2013 because he needed to pay compensation arising out of a criminal damage charge to which he pleaded guilty and he wanted to buy a car for his then girlfriend Jessica King. Money pressure became more of an issue in the trial, counsel said, when Brady tried to downplay it in his direct evidence before the jury.

Staines reminded the jury that the accused told his own counsel that after leaving school aged 16 he had worked “constantly” and was never on the dole for more than a month.

That was, Staines said, a “straight up lie, a stupid lie” because it was contradicted by Brady’s statement to gardaí in February 2013 in which he said he was having difficulties with employment and had been on the dole in Northern Ireland getting €50 (£45 Stg) per week coming up to Christmas 2012.

Staines added: “The reason that lie is important is because this is one of the most important days of his life and he immediately tries to convince you of something that is not true.”

Counsel added: “He has told you a litany of lies, big lies, little lies, clever lies, stupid lies but all lies told for the same purpose: the advantage of Aaron Brady.”

Staines asked the jury if they thought other aspects of his evidence “rang true”, such as when he said Suspect A was earning a six figure sum in America and wouldn’t be involved in stealing cars.

Counsel reminded the jury that Brady’s former girlfriend Jessica King told them that she confronted Brady about a suggestion that he was involved in stealing a car in an unrelated incident and he blamed Suspect A. “Jessica King has no reason to lie,” counsel said, “Why is he telling you that [Suspect A] wouldn’t be involved in stealing cars when he specifically told Jessica King the opposite?”

Staines also pointed to Brady’s alibi which, he said, was delivered to the prosecution in September 2019 and contained one line stating that the accused was at an address on Concession Road in south Armagh when the shooting occurred.

Last December, after the trial was due to begin, Brady sent a note to the prosecution giving a description of his movements and admitting that he had lied to gardaí in 2013 about his movements.

Staines criticised the manner of Brady’s defence, adding: “The criticisms I make are of Aaron Brady, not of his lawyers. He has been provided with some of the best lawyers in the State who do their jobs to the highest professional standards.

But they act on his instructions.” He said Brady had asked his lawyers to argue that “black was white” and accused Brady of taking advantage of the disclosure given to him by the prosecution to construct a false alibi around diesel laundering.

Counsel added: “He is a skilled and practiced liar and he does what clever liars do, takes real events and superimposes onto them falsities.”

He said that what Brady told his lawyers to do to Daniel Cahill was “disgraceful”. During cross examination Justin McQuade BL for the defence suggested that Cahill was an active member of the “Ryan Crew” or Dublin Real IRA, something Cahill strongly denied. Mr Justice Michael White called it an “outrageous” suggestion and McQuade apologised.

Staines today described it as a “completely baseless suggestion”. He said Cahill had come from a difficult background but had no convictions, got a job as a hairdresser and then went to New York where he has worked as a barman.

He added: “And he comes to court to give evidence and all this mud is raked over him with no real basis for any of it.” Staines said there is no evidence of any threats or inducements by Homeland Security to Cahill in return for his evidence and asked the jury to assess what the witness said for themselves.

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Staines addressed the capital murder charge, explaining that for a guilty verdict the prosecution must prove that Brady shot Donohoe knowing he was acting in accordance with his duty as a garda.

Counsel described the robbery as well organised with evidence of several days of planning. He went through the evidence of Detective Garda Seamus O’Donnell who said that the gun cartridge found at the scene was from a pump action or semi-automatic shotgun that was fired within six feet of Donohoe.

He also described the five-step process of making such a gun ready to fire: the manual loading of a live cartridge into the weapon, pulling back the bolt or pump mechanism to load the cartridge into position, manually releasing the safety, pointing the weapon at the target and applying three to four pounds of pressure to the trigger.

He asked the jury to watch CCTV of the moment Det Gda Donohoe was shot and assess the angle of the shotgun and the possibility it was fired as a warning shot. He added: “The natural and probable consequences of the discharge of a shotgun to the head, effectively from point blank range, is death.”

Passat 

Staines further told the jury that the gang chose Lordship because of its proximity to the border beyond which gardaí cannot follow. They stole the Volkswagen Passat used in the robbery three days beforehand and stashed it where it wouldn’t be found, indicating at least three days of planning.

Forty-five minutes before the robbery, counsel said, the gang members were dropped to Lordship in the stolen Passat. When the robbery took place the men had covered their faces, wore dark clothing and there was a suggestion they used walkie talkies to avoid being tracked on their mobile phones.

The Volkswagen Passat blocked the entrance to the credit union car park with “perfect precision”, counsel said, after the credit union employees had left the building carrying the day’s takings and just as their cars and the garda escort were about to leave. The two men with firearms “proceed directly to the garda car”, Staines said while the others went to the employees’ cars.

He added: “This gang knows it will be met with an escort of armed gardaí who are following this cash in transit this Friday as it did every Friday.”

Staines said the gang knew which car contained gardaí, adding: “This was a murder and this was capital murder. When that five step process was gone through and that trigger was pulled, Aaron Brady knew he was pulling that trigger at a member of An Garda Síochána. They were too organised and had too much knowledge for them not to know that this cash-in-transit was going to be protected by armed gardaí.”

Staines said the defence is likely to raise the issue that Joe Ryan, who was in the driver’s seat of the garda car, said the shooter was six feet one inch tall whereas Brady is five feet seven or eight inches tall. Staines reminded the jury that Ryan was sitting in the garda car with a gun in his face at the time.

He also pointed out that when asked to give a description at the scene, he said: “Dark coloured car was all I got. I had a shotgun in my face,” and later: “All I saw was two men, I had a shotgun in my face.”

Staines further asked if it is surprising that there were no forensics at the scene given the raiders were in and out in 58 seconds and burned out the Volkswagen Passat. Counsel said that any suggestion this was a poor investigation in which corners were cut is undermined by the evidence that it was “one of the biggest murder investigations in the history of the State.”

More than 6,000 jobs had been created and thousands of garda reports. CCTV was secured from 380 locations in Louth and south Armagh, he said.

Counsel further suggested that the defence will point out that Ms King and others described Brady as calm and normal when they met him later that night. He said you might expect someone who has taken a life in this manner to be “jumping around” but Staines asked the jury to “consider the person we are dealing with”.

He said Inspector John Moroney described rady as calm when Brady told him a “pack of lies” after being stopped the day after the shooting. The accused also, Staines said, spent two days telling “lie after lie after lie after lie” when giving a statement to gardaí in February 2013.

He then, counsel said, got into the witness box in front of the jury and told “downright lies about silly things, important things, about serious things, calmly”.

Michael O’Higgins SC for the defence will address the jury of six men and seven women in front of Mr Justice Michael White on Monday.

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Eoin Reynolds

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