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Dublin: 4 °C Friday 3 April, 2020

Letters in which man bragged about involvement in murder 'not reliable to convict him' court told

Daniel McDonnell of Brookview Lawns in Tallaght had pleaded not guilty to the murder

LETTERS WRITTEN a man apparently bragging about his involvement in the murder of innocent 16-year-old Melanie McCarthy McNamara were not reliable to safely convict him of murder, his lawyers have told the Court of Appeal.

Daniel McDonnell (23) of Brookview Lawns in Tallaght had pleaded not guilty to the murder of the innocent 16-year-old at Brookview Way in Tallaght on 8 February 2012

The Central Criminal Court heard that Melanie was shot in the head as she sat in a car with her boyfriend and his friend in Tallaght on the date in question.

The trial heard that a stolen black Hyundai Santa Fe had pulled up alongside the car in which Melanie was sitting in the back seat. A shot was discharged from the Hyundai and Melanie was hit in the head.

McDonnell was one of two men arrested on suspicion of murder the following week. He maintained his right to silence in more than 20 Garda interviews but daubed incriminating graffiti on his cell wall that included: “2 in the head. The bitch is dead ha ha…”


A few weeks later, while detained in St Patrick’s Institution, McDonnell continued to brag about his involvement, according to the prosecution, this time in two letters.

The first one, addressed to his cousin, included the lines: “This war ain’t stopping. Take my word for it. Close-range head shots. That’s what I’m going for. If I get High Court bail I swear on my whole family, them four will be in the ground… Little did he know I had a loaded 12-guage. Left his bitch all over the Sunday World front page.”

In the second letter, to his former girlfriend, he wrote: “That other thing wouldn’t have happened if I’d known she was in the car. It was meant for that other smell bag. He won’t get away with bullying my Ma.”

The then 19-year-old was unanimously found guilty by a jury after over four hours of deliberations and given the mandatory life sentence by Mr Justice Paul Carney on January 24, 2014.

McDonnell moved to appeal his conviction today principally over the reliability of the letters.

His barrister, Bernard Condon SC, said the prosecution’s case turned on the two letters, without which, he said, there wouldn’t have been a prosecution.

The only other supporting evidence was the graffiti he daubed on his cell wall.

Mr Condon said the letters should not have been admissible and further that, on their own, they did not meet the threshold for the case to go to a jury.

He said the letters were written by a 17-year-old on 23-hour lock-up, who had been on drugs since the age of 11, with a catalogue of personal circumstances which lead him to be the type of person who might be a fantasist.

In a case where there was no other evidence, Mr Condon said the letters were not the sort of material that could safely give rise to a conviction for murder.


Mr Condon listed a number of matters which ought not to have permitted the jury to consider the letters. These included McDonnell’s age and maturity and the circumstances in which he wrote the letter – he had been on 23-hour lock-up in a single cell for 10 days; His history of drug use since the age of 11; His level of education and emotional maturity; His ability to process information: His susceptibility to suggestibility; His poor self image and desire for attention and notoriety; The lack of other supporting evidence linking him to the crime and the lack of safeguards around how the letters were written (it wasn’t video recorded).

Mr Condon said an important legal argument took place over a number of days involving evidence from four Gardai, a psychologist, in whose opinion the letters were not wholly reliable, and McDonnell himself. It resulted in a 24-line judgment, which wasn’t adequate given the profound issues which were in play, Mr Condon submitted.

Further issues relating to the seizure and confiscation of the letters were also argued but, essentially, the appeal came down to the reliability of the letters.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Brendan Grehan SC, said the letters were “manifestly voluntary, lucidly written and structured”. He said they were highly relevant and of great probative value.

While the trial judge’s ruling was succint, Mr Grehan said it dealt with the issues that were before him.

He said the psychologist, in whose opinion the letters were not wholly reliable, accepted that there was nothing in his report to indicate that he discussed the letters with McDonnell.

Mr Grehan said McDonnell spent five days being interviewed by “seasoned detectives” and he maintained “absolute silence” throughout apart from writing graffiti on his cell wall which “coincided with matters in the letters”.

He said no issue had been made out in respect of the seizure of the letters and he asked what any agent of the state would do if they found a letter outlining what would happen to four people if the person who wrote the letter was released on bail.

Mr Justice George Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Edwards, said the court would reserve its judgment.

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About the author:

Ruaidhrí Giblin

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