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Remains of Dublin man were burned and buried in shallow grave, murder trial hears

The remains of Philip Finnegan were identified by fingerprints from skin found in the soil at the gravesite.

Image: PA Images

Note: This report contains details that some readers may find distressing 

THE DECAPITATED AND “skeletonised” remains of a missing Dublin man were found curled up in a foetal position in a shallow grave, while attempts had been made to burn his body, a pathologist has told a murder trial.

The jury also heard from the expert witness that, in her view, Philip Finnegan’s death was caused by multiple stab wounds to the body, including two fatal ones to his liver and aorta.

The Central Criminal Court was further told today that the identity of the deceased, who had been missing for almost a month, was confirmed by fingerprint after skin that had “slipped away” from a finger was recovered from the soil of the gravesite.

Stephen Penrose (38), of Newtown Court, Malahide Road, Coolock, Dublin 17, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr Finnegan (24) at Rahin Woods, Rahin, Edenderry, Co Kildare on August 10, 2016.

The trial has heard that Mr Finnegan was missing for 30 days before a dog walker and his two pets found remains buried in a shallow grave in the Kildare woods.

Evidence has been given that a garden fork, a shovel and the blade of a knife were found close to the remains. A garden glove with substantial fire damage, a black funnel and the remains of a mobile phone were found nearby buried in a fire pit.

Giving evidence today, Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster told Brendan Grehan SC, prosecuting, that she conducted a post mortem on the remains of Mr Finnegan at Naas General Hospital on 3 and 4 September, 2016.

The deceased’s identity had been confirmed through his fingerprints, where the epidermis had slipped away from his left middle finger and was recovered in the soil of the shallow grave, the court heard.

The witness said she went to Rahin Woods at 1.10pm on 3 September, where she saw leg bones protruding from the top of the earth.

“The bones were practically defleshed and the body was in a foetal position with both knees curled up to the chest area and the back bent down,” she explained. Mr Finnegan’s body was removed in that position intact with the surrounding soil to preserve it as much as possible.

Mr Finnegan’s head was partially covered with a protective vest in the grave and the right arm was encased in a blue t-shirt, which had melted onto the stab vest.

In his opening address, Mr Grehan said that Mr Finnegan had “certain troubles in the past” and had taken to wearing a protective vest.

The back of the t-shirt was pulled up over the deceased’s head and there was a watch around the left wrist which showed the correct time. No clothing was found on the lower body and a number of tattoos could be identified despite the advanced decomposition of the remains.

The court heard that forensic anthropologist Ms Lorraine Buckley, who is a bone expert, was brought in to assist Dr Bolster as all the flesh on the body was gone and the remains were skeletonised. Ms Buckley had established that the body was male.

Dr Bolster said much of Mr Finnegan’s hair was missing from the scalp and the eyes were missing due to decomposition.

Attempts had been made to cut up the body, the front part of the pelvis had been cut through and a large amount of the buttocks was missing.

The head was separated from the neck bone at the fourth cervical vertebrae.

“The neck bone had been disarticulated and it appeared to be cut through,” said Dr Bolster, adding that anything sharp such as a saw or axe could have been used.

The expert witness testified that a small piece of bone had been chipped away from the right side of the jawbone. The entire anterior abdominal wall was not present due to decomposition.

There was also evidence of extensive burning to the upper left shoulder, the palm of the left hand, along the left upper arm and the left forearm. There were only margins of skin remaining.

Referring to the decomposition of the body, Dr Bolster said the breakdown of the tissue can be due to “predator damage” from rats and foxes and also due to bacteria and enzymes in the body.

There were 13 stab wounds to the body, including one to the stomach and liver and another extending into the aorta, which was 11.2cm deep. The majority of the stab wounds were to the deceased’s back but others included the right ear lobe, left forearm, left elbow joint and left cheek.

In her evidence, Dr Bolster said there were two cuts to the left hand and stab wounds to the arm, which were suggestive of defensive injuries. Significant blunt force trauma to the body was not identified.

A toxicology report showed that Diazepam and cannabis were present.

Dr Bolster pointed out that the time of death was impossible to establish due to advanced decomposition and the burning of the body.

She agreed with Mr Grehan that chips had survived in Mr Finnegan’s stomach even though the body had decomposed.

In conclusion, the witness said that efforts had been made to dispose of the body by cutting it up. The body was also burned and buried in a shallow grave.

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Dr Bolster said Mr Finnegan’s cause of death was impossible to establish with absolute certainty but in her view it was from multiple stab wounds to the body, which included two fatal ones to the liver and aorta.

Mr Justice Alexander Owens asked the witness if it was possible to establish if the burning of the body occurred immediately after death. “I couldn’t tell you,” replied Dr Bolster.

Forensic anthropologist Ms Lorraine Buckley, who specialises in skeletal remains, told Mr Grehan that she noticed a strong smell of ammonia, which was probably from urine, when the body was removed from the soil at Rahin Woods. The witness said she also smelled burning, “a smokey smell”.

Ms Buckley carried out an X-ray of the bones at Naas General Hospital to assist her in determining that the body was male. No bullets were identified.

She said the legs and feet had almost fully skeletonised and the muscles of the anterior chest wall had decayed so that the ribs were visible. Even though the body was found in a foetal position, she said, the head was separated from it. “The arms and hands were well preserved and still had flesh and skin on them,” she continued.

Outlining the details of Mr Finnegan’s death, the witness said there were no injuries to the front of the body but there were stab wounds to the back area.

Ms Buckley highlighted a large cut at the back of the neck, where she said there had been a successful attempt to cut off the head. Efforts to cut off the lower limbs however, were unsuccessful. She got the impression that a sharp knife and not an axe was used due to the incised wound at the back of the skull.

In summary, Ms Buckley said there were a number of stab wounds to the back which penetrated the organs and one wound to the back of the skull had cut the bone. There were other “cut marks” through the cervical vertebrae and attempts to burn the body were unsuccessful.

Earlier, Dr Bryce Wickham, who was working in Naas General Hospital on 3 September, said he pronounced Mr Finnegan’s time of death at 5.57pm that day after finding no signs of life. The witness said the body was in an advanced state of decay and that Mr Finnegan had died sometime before this.

The trial continues on Friday before Mr Justice Owens and a jury of eight men and four women.

In his opening speech, Mr Grehan said the jury would hear evidence that a bloodied glove was found in the woods which was a DNA match to the accused man Mr Penrose.

Evidence has also been given that Mr Penrose’s phone connected to a cell site close to the area where the victim’s body was found.

Mr Penrose dispensed with what was his second legal team “once again” on Tuesday and is continuing to decline to attend his trial, which is in its fourth week at the Central Criminal Court.

About the author:

Alison O'Riordan

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