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Wednesday 6 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Sasko Lazarov/ File photo

Man acquitted of Warren O’Connor's murder

The former soldier died from a single stab wound to the neck in 2010.

A DUBLIN MAN who was charged with the murder of a former soldier nine years ago has today been acquitted by a jury at the Central Criminal Court.

Justice Michael White said the deceased had been “a peacemaker” on the night, trying to resolve an issue which had ended in tragedy.

Gary Watson (35), with an address at Millbrook Avenue, Kilbarrack, Dublin 13, had pleaded not guilty to murdering Warren O’Connor (24) at Hole in the Wall Road, Donaghmede, Dublin 13 on 16 January 2010.

O’Connor died from a single stab wound to the neck and the knife’s blade was found “partially impaled” in his body when his post-mortem was conducted.

However, Watson was today found guilty by unanimous verdicts of assaulting Philip Woodcock (34) causing him harm as well as the production of a knife on the same occasion. The defendant had also denied these charges.

The jury of seven men and five women took four hours and 11 minutes to come to their verdicts.

Members of O’Connor’s family wept when the verdicts were announced by the court registrar.

‘Get that into you’ 

Following today’s verdicts, Justice White thanked the jury for their time and said they had discharged “a very public function” in what was a “very difficult and tragic trial”. He exempted them from jury service for a period of 15 years.

The two-week trial heard that a fight ensued between two groups of men after Woodcock removed a fuse and cut power to his neighbour’s apartment so an allegedly ”noisy house party” would end and the occupants would leave.

The trial also heard that one group – which included Woodcock and the deceased Warren O’Connor – left Grattan Wood apartment complex in a Ford Focus car on the night before it was rammed by another group – which included Watson – driving a black Honda Civic car.

Gary Foy gave evidence that he looked out his bedroom window on the night when he heard shouting coming from Hole in the Wall Road.

Foy said he heard a man wearing a white hoodie say “get that into you” and saw him make a stabbing motion towards another man’s chest during a row. 

Woodcock testified that one of the men in his neighbour’s apartment was wearing a Russell Athletic hoodie on the night and had head-butted him. 

The witness also gave evidence that the man in the Russell Athletic hoodie later stabbed him in the shoulder on Hole in the Wall Road. After the attack, Mr Woodcock saw Mr O’Connor laying face down on the ground. He had been fatally stabbed. 

No forensic evidence

Amy Kinsella gave evidence that she was at a party in her sister’s apartment with Watson on the night and he was wearing a white hoodie with writing on the chest. 

Garda Damien Carroll testified that he recovered a black-handled knife from a building near Grattan Wood apartment complex in Donaghmede as well as three knives from a black Honda Civic car. 

No fingerprints belonging to Watson were found on these knives, said Garda Carroll. Furthermore, the court heard that Watson’s fingerprints were not found on the blade which was removed from O’Connor’s body.

In her closing speech, defence counsel Anne-Marie Lawlor SC said the case “stands and falls” on Foy’s evidence. 

Lawlor said that in order to convict her client, the jury had to be sure that what Foy said “was enough” as there was “nothing else” in the case. She explained that there was no forensic evidence nor CCTV footage of Mr O’Connor’s “actual death”. 

“No one says Gary Watson killed Mr O’Connor, he [Gary Foy] says a man in a white hoodie stabbed the deceased,” she argued. 
In charging the jury, Justice White said they had been asked by the prosecution to rely on the identification evidence of Foy.

He asked them to “be especially cautious” as there have been a number of incidents in the past where people have made positive identifications that had proved to be erroneous. 
However, he said that if the jury were satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt as to the identification of colour, clothing and height, they were at liberty to act on it.
After the verdicts were returned James Dwyer SC, prosecuting, asked the court to direct a victim impact statement in relation to Woodcock.

The court adjourned sentencing on the two charges on which Watson was found guilty until 7 March and Justice White remanded the defendant in custody until that date.

The judge expressed his condolences to O’Connor’s family for their loss saying that the event had happened a long time ago.

“He [O’Connor] was a peacemaker on the night, trying to resolve an issue which caused great tragedy,” said Justice White.

Addressing the O’Connor family, he said they had acted “very dignified” throughout the trial.

Lawlor asked the court to order a governor’s report from Cloverhill Prison.

‘He didn’t blink, he just died’

During the trial Philip Woodcock, an apprentice electrician, testified that he lived in Grattan Wood apartment complex on Hole in the Wall Road in Donaghmede with his partner and their child.

In his evidence, Woodcock said he heard music and a lot of noise coming from the next-door apartment on the night, which belonged to his neighbour Louise Kinsella.

Woodcock said he went downstairs and took the fuse out in order to cut the power in the building so the noisy people would leave and then drove to the local garage. The witness said his partner rang him when he was in the garage and told him that the party was getting louder.

Woodcock said he picked up four friends – Graham Hogan, Jonathan Gunnery, Richard Grant and Warren O’Connor – before returning to his apartment complex.

Woodcock said he “banged” on Ms Kinsella’s door and when it opened he saw three men with “big kitchen knives”. 

Woodcock testified that a man wearing a Russell Athletic hoodie hit him with the top of his head. Woodcock punched this man and he fell to the ground.

Watson and his two friends later went down to the carpark in the complex and got into a black Honda Civic car. Woodcock and his group got into a Ford Focus, the court heard.

Woodcock said the Honda Civic tried to overtake the Ford Focus on the main road and then “rammed” into the driver’s side of the car a few times.

“I lost control of the car, we both collided and both cars cut out,” he said. 

The witness said he ran towards the Honda Civic car and started to hit the driver before the man in the Russell Athletic hoodie ran up behind him with a kitchen knife in his hand.

Woodcock said he caught this man with a punch at the same time as the man stabbed him in the left shoulder. 

Woodcock said Warren O’Connor was face down on the ground so he drove his car down the road and saw he had been stabbed. “We were all talking to him, telling him we loved him. We tried to make him blink but he didn’t blink, he just died,” Woodcock said.

The witness broke down as he described how O’Connor still had part of the knife inside him. “Half an inch of the knife was sticking out of his body, the handle was gone,” he sobbed.

Amy Kinsella, the sister of Louise Kinsella, gave evidence that she was at a “mellow” party in her sister’s apartment on the night and Watson was there. The witness said Watson was wearing a white hoodie with writing on it and Woodcock had punched him.

In his evidence, Gary Foy said he lived in Newgrove Estate, Donaghmede, which faced onto Hole in the Wall Road and was watching television on the night with his window open.

Foy testified that he heard a man wearing a white hoodie say “get that into you” and saw him make a stabbing motion towards another man’s chest during a row. 

Susan Ford gave evidence that she and her husband were on Hole in the Wall Road when she saw two men shouting at each other. A few seconds later she heard footsteps behind her and one of the men grabbed onto the railings saying “I’ve been stabbed, I’ve been stabbed” before he “fell forward”.

The statement of former Deputy State Pathologist, Dr Khalid Jaber, was read into the record during the trial and he said O’Connor’s cause of death was a penetrating stab wound to the lower anterior of the left side of the neck.

The blade of a stainless-steel kitchen knife, which measured 22.5cms in length was found “partially impaled” in O’Connor’s neck when the post-mortem was carried out and its handle was not recovered, Dr Jaber said.