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Stephen Silver (file photo) PA
stephen silver

Garda murder accused Stephen Silver claims detective Colm Horkan tried to attack him

Silver denies murdering Garda Colm Horkan in 2020.

STEPHEN SILVER, WHO denies murdering Garda Colm Horkan but admits to his manslaughter, told gardaí that the deceased tried to attack him.

Opening the trial against Silver, prosecution counsel James Dwyer said the accused mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement, which the barrister suggested may have been a reference to the murder of George Floyd in America in the summer of 2020.

The prosecution barrister alleged that Silver also told Gardaí: “With all that’s going on with the police in this world, I shot him.”

Counsel also told the jury of six men and six women that an issue which they may have to consider is whether the accused was “ill-disposed towards gardaí” and whether that “manifested itself in his behaviour on the day he killed” the garda.

Silver (46), a motorbike mechanic from Aughavard, Foxford, Co Mayo has pleaded not guilty to the capital murder of Garda Colm Horkan (49), knowing or being reckless as to whether the deceased was a member of An Garda Síochána acting in accordance with his duty at Castlerea, Co Roscommon, on 17 June 2020.

He has pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

The jury heard when they were being sworn in on Monday that the defence will be raising the issues of bipolar disorder and the accused having diminished responsibility due to mental health difficulties.

Opening the prosecution’s case this morning, counsel said the State takes a view on the evidence which is that the accused is guilty of the crime of capital murder.

Outlining the facts of the case, the barrister said that the deceased was a single man who lived with his father in Charlestown in Co Mayo and had spent almost 25 years as a member of An Garda Síochána.

At the time the garda died, counsel said, he had not been formally appointed as a detective but had been approved by a superintendent to carry out detective duties.

He had also been authorised to carry firearms and given permission to wear plain clothes when on duty.

The accused man, he said, grew up on the outskirts of Castlerea, left school after his junior certificate exams, had worked as a fitness instructor for a number of years prior to June 2020 before setting up his own business as a motorcycle mechanic in Foxford, where he lived.

The accused was married but had been separated three months prior to the incident.

The lawyer said the evidence will be that the accused had a history of mental health difficulties and a confirmed diagnosis of bipolar disorder. He also had a number of hospital admissions mainly as a younger man.

Travelled in van

A number of days prior to the killing, counsel said the defendant was in the company of an Australian woman who was visiting Ireland and had stayed in the Carlton Hotel Dublin Airport between 15 and 17 June.

The woman was flying out of Ireland on 17 June and the accused left Dublin that morning.

Detailing the evidence that will be heard, counsel said the accused travelled in a van to Castlerea arriving there in the early afternoon.

He spoke to a friend at a train station, who showed him videos on Facebook of a Garda raid earlier that month on the home of another of the accused’s friends, James Coyne.

There will be evidence, counsel said, that Silver became annoyed and went to the Knockroe estate in Castlerea to call on Coyne, someone he had not met for many years.

The pair decided to travel together in the accused’s silver van to his garage in Foxford.

En route to Foxford, the accused stopped the van at Castlerea Garda Station where he got out of the vehicle and went into the public office to make a complaint to Gardaí about an elderly person being abused by Gardaí.

The accused told officers he had evidence on his phone and would be taking it further.

The court will also hear evidence, the lawyer said, that the pair then went to the accused’s garage where Coyne tried out a motorcycle.

The accused is alleged to have told Coyne: “You’re a natural, you can have it”. The pair then returned to Castlerea at 10.30pm that evening.

No lights or helmets

The prosecution barrister went on to tell the court that the accused’s van pulled up at the forecourt of Castlerea Garda Station on their way back and turned around before returning to Coyne’s home.

When they got to the house, the men took out the motorcycle and took turns riding around a green area in the estate with no lights and no helmets.

Counsel also indicated to the jury that some of the neighbours called Gardaí and one neighbour recalled he heard someone who answered the description of the accused shouting: “I dare the armed squad to come down here now”.

The men left the estate on foot close to midnight heading towards the centre of town to buy food.

The accused wanted to take the route past the Garda station but instead went along Patrick Street towards the junction with Main Street in Castlerea.

The barrister said that the deceased had taken up duty that afternoon at 2pm, had his own Garda-issued firearm on him and was driving an unmarked Hyundai Garda patrol car.

He said a neighbour had seen a car matching that description entering the Knockroe estate just before midnight, around the same time the two men had left on foot.

Counsel said the court will hear that as the men came into the centre of Castlerea at the corner of Patrick Street and Main Street, the garda pulled up beside them, and appeared to roll down the passenger window.

The accused spoke to the garda at the window of the vehicle.

Struggle for firearm

The barrister further stated that there would be a number of accounts from various eye witnesses including Coyne about what happened afterwards.

Some form of exchange took place between the accused and Garda Horkan, with the officer getting out of the unmarked car and approaching the accused.

According to Coyne, the deceased told the accused that he was arresting him and a physical struggle developed between them, which evolved into a struggle for the firearm, which the garda had on him.

Evidence will be that a shot from the gun was discharged and Garda Horkan was wounded.

The accused rolled away with the gun and proceeded to repeatedly shoot the officer. Fifteen cartridges were found at the scene and the gun was emptied.

At this stage, counsel said, two other gardaí arrived at the scene in a marked Garda patrol car having left the Knockroe estate.

They were the first gardaí on the scene and had heard the shots as they drove past before turning around and blocking the road.

One of the gardai approached the accused, saw him throw the gun away and told him to lie face down.

The accused allegedly told gardaí: “That man tried to attack me and with all that’s going on with the police in the world, I shot him”.

Counsel said the accused mentioned Black Lives Matter, which counsel suggested was a possible reference to the murder of George Floyd in America.

Silver was arrested and taken to Castlerea Garda Station.

A garda at the scene applied CPR to Gda Horkan and was assisted by colleagues but it was quickly apparent that Horkan had sustained fatal injuries and died at the scene.

Catastrophic injuries

The officer’s remains were removed to Mayo General Hospital early the following morning, where a postmortem was carried out by Dr Linda Mulligan.

Eleven gunshots were found to have been fired from multiple angles, there were three entry wounds to the deceased’s back.

One of the wounds was a close contact wound and the majority of shots came from a distance of greater than one metre, counsel said.

The court will also hear, the barrister indicated that some of the exit wounds from the bullets had a short appearance which suggested Horkan was on the ground when he was shot.

The cumulative effect of all of these gunshot wounds, he said, meant that Horkan had received massive internal injuries and multiple fractures.

Mulligan will give evidence that the garda suffered catastrophic injuries which were non-survivable, he said.

The court heard further evidence will be that the deceased had blunt force trauma to his left eye and left temple, which had a similar configuration to the butt of the pistol and may have been caused by a blow with the butt of the gun.

The accused was seen by a local GP shortly after being detained and later by a psychiatrist, who didn’t conduct a formal assessment of him but was satisfied on his observations that the accused was fit to be interviewed by Gardaí.

‘Big blue car’

Another part of the prosecution case will be interviews with Silver, which the jury will see and hear in due course.

In his first interview, the accused said: “Then this big blue car pulled up and this lad said, ‘who are you’. He said I’m a guard. He came up to me. I pushed him”.

The accused said he had seen a Tommy Hilfiger jacket and that he didn’t know who he was.

Counsel said the accused man said he pushed Horkan as he “was in my space”.

Silver continued: “A struggle ensued, I felt him going for something. The next thing he had it out, then bang, bang. I got the gun off him and I think I shot him.”

Silver said he found out afterwards that Horkan was dead saying: “I’m angry about it as a garda tried to kill me, is that a Garda car?”.

Counsel said the accused is charged with capital murder and pointed out the Oireachtas considered Gardaí and prison officers were deserving of special protection when acting in the course of their duty.

He said the State would have to prove that Horkan was acting in the course of his duty at the time, that the accused knew that and was at the least reckless at the time.

He added: “We say Garda Horkan died as a result of the actions of Mr Silver, we say those actions were unlawful in terms of the initial struggle and repeated shooting of him. We say Mr Silver had the intention to kill or cause serious injury at the time Garda Horkan died”.

In addition, counsel said despite Silver’s references to things like a Tommy Hilfiger jacket and an unmarked patrol car, it is the State’s case that the accused knew well that Horkan was a member of An Garda Síochána at the time and a member on duty.

Counsel said that an issue the jury might have to consider in the case is whether Silver was ill-disposed towards An Garda Síochána and that this manifested itself in his behaviour on the day he killed the deceased.

He went on to say that the issue of diminished responsibility may arise in the case and that the jury would be assisted by forensic psychologists.

‘Functioning mental capacity’

“It is suggested that Mr Silver had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and that he was suffering from a relapse at the time he was shot and the defence say this substantially diminished his responsibility. We disagree and say Mr Silver had significant functioning mental capacity at the time he killed Gda Horkan,” counsel said.

In summary, counsel said that the accused must prove that defence on the balance of probabilities if the state proves there was an unlawful killing.

The accused’s barrister, Dominic McGinn, made a series of admissions on his behalf.

These included that Horkan died on the main street in Castlerea as a result of being shot a number of times and that his client was responsible for the shooting. He said the main issue in the case would be the state of mind of Silver at the time.

The trial continues before Ms Justice Tara Burns and a jury of six men and six women. It is expected to last six weeks.