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Two men have convictions quashed for murder of 64-year-old Offaly man

The Court of Appeal found today that the men were not guilty of murder in a case of joint enterprise.

Image: Sasko Lazarov via RollingNews.ie

TWO MEN HAVE had their convictions quashed for the murder of a 64-year-old Offaly man who was beaten to death with a baseball bat in his own home.

The Court of Appeal today overturned the verdicts against the men, who have been in prison for almost five years, and substituted them with convictions for impeding the apprehension or prosecution of a person.

Court President Justice George Birmingham, presiding with Justice John Edwards and Justice Isobel Kennedy, said the court would quash the murder convictions and send the two men back to the Central Criminal Court for sentencing on the substituted verdicts.

Grandfather Thomas ‘Toddy’ Dooley suffered eight blows to his head, which shattered his skull, disfigured his face and left fragments of bone lodged in his brain. Two blows to his torso had fractured three of his ribs. His attackers had also tried to set him on fire after he died.

Matthew Cummins (27), of Churchview Heights, Edenderry, Co Offaly and his co-accused Seán Davy, (26), of Clonmullen Drive, Edenderry, and James Davy (30), of Thornhill Meadows, Celbridge, Co Kildare, had denied murdering Mr Dooley at Sr Senan Court in Edenderry on February 12, 2014.

However, a unanimous jury found each man guilty of murder following a Central Criminal Court trial in 2016.

Brutal motiveless attack

Trial judge Ms Justice Margaret Heneghan said that the murder was a “brutal, motiveless attack on this defenceless elderly man” before she sentenced each to life in prison on October 10, 2016.

The trial heard that the three men got into Mr Dooley’s home through a window at about 5.30am on a cold, snowy morning. Matthew Cummins had been in Toddy’s house before and knew him as a kind man who would always say hello.

Cummins climbed in a window and then opened another window to let the other two in. Toddy, who was described as “soft” by one garda witness, was used to having young visitors at irregular hours and it appears he did not object. He sat down in his armchair, opened a can of Budweiser and drank with the intruders.

The three drank with Toddy for a time but at some point Mr Dooley was beaten to death and attempts were made to set his dead body on fire. The State had argued that all three men were equally guilty and were involved in a “joint enterprise” to murder Mr Dooley.

The three men gave different accounts of what happened in the house. Matthew Cummins claimed that “out of the blue” Seán Davy walked up behind the 64-year-old and beat him on the back of the head with the bat, before coming around the armchair to continue the beating from the front.

Seán Davy claimed that James Davy was responsible for most of the blows, and that he himself struck Mr Dooley once, but “not full force”. James Davy denied laying a hand on Mr Dooley, saying that Seán Davy beat him with the bat and Matthew Cummins kicked Mr Dooley but not with much force.

Seán Davey failed in a bid to have his conviction overturned in 2018. He had failed in his argument that he should have been tried separately rather than jointly with his co-accused.

His cousin James Davey and the remaining co-accused, Mathew Cummins, made applications to the Court of Appeal in May to have their convictions overturned.

Joint enterprise

Caroline Biggs SC, for Cummins, had argued that at no stage during the trial had the DPP “pinned her colours to the mast” to say whether the case was one of joint enterprise or aiding and abetting.

“It was just throw enough mud at this case and it will stick,” she suggested. She also argued that the judge should have severed the indictment.

Ms Biggs had argued that her case was not properly put to the jury by the judge and that the law regarding joint enterprise was also not properly explained.

In her appeal submissions, she argued that the judge should have made it absolutely clear to the jury that if a person’s act and ‘mens rea’ (guilty mind) occurred after the killing, the person would have been guilty of impeding the apprehension of another.

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James Dwyer SC, who represented James Davey, had told the appeal court: “I agree that this was one of those rare cases where they all blamed each other”.

However, he noted recent rulings that every application for severance of an indictment must be treated with care by a trial judge. “There was resistance in this case,” he said.

He also argued that there were aspects of the judge’s direction, which were confusing and misguided.

DPP view

Patrick Treacy SC had responded on behalf of the DPP. He said that the prosecution case was that ‘all three men were intrinsically involved in the savage murder’.

“I’m asking the court to have regard to the fact of how brutally this man was actually murdered,” he said. “They say it’s not of consequence that they were present to watch the brutality.”

He noted that there was blood on the walls, floor and ceiling, and that the victim’s head was misshapen, ‘such was the savagery of the beating’.

“They say that you can be there as either James Davey or Mathew Cummins and watch the brutality and in some way you are not a participant in that,” he said.

“The prosecution case is a whole plethora of facts showing how integrated these three men were in the execution of this barbaric killing,” he said.

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