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Grangegorman murders: Serial killer's appeal against his conviction is rejected

Nash was found guilty in 2015 of murdering the two women, whose mutilated bodies were found in sheltered accommodation in Grangegorman 21 years ago.

Mark Nash in 1997
Mark Nash in 1997
Image: RollingNews.ie

Updated at 5.15pm

THE COURT OF Appeal has upheld serial killer Mark Nash’s conviction for the “cold-case” killing of two women in Dublin known as the Grangegorman murders.

Nash was found guilty in 2015 of murdering the two women, whose mutilated bodies were found in sheltered accommodation in Grangegorman 21 years ago.

The 44-year-old, who is originally from England but has last addresses at Prussia Street and Clonliffe Road in Dublin, had pleaded not guilty at the Central Criminal Court to the murder of Sylvia Sheils, aged 59, and Mary Callanan, aged 61, between 6 and 7 March 1997.

A Central Criminal Court jury unanimously found Nash guilty after four hours of deliberations following a 48-day trial and he was accordingly given the mandatory life sentence by Justice Carroll Moran on 20 April 2015.

Nash had already been serving life since October 1998 for murdering two people in Ballintober, Castlerea, Roscommon in mid-August 1997. The four murders were committed within the space of five months.

Judgement

Dismissing Nash’s appeal on all grounds today, Justice Alan Mahon said it was the “strong view” of the three-judge court that Nash’s trial for the Grangegorman murders was “entirely fair” and it “produced a verdict well justified by the evidence”.

Justice Mahon, who sat with Justice John Edwards and Justice Michael White, said none of the various grounds of appeal had been upheld by the court and “accordingly we must dismiss the appeal”.

Nash was not in court for the delivery of the judgment.

Giving judgment in the three-judge court, Justice Mahon said the gruesome murder of two vulnerable and defenceless middle-aged women had attracted enormous attention at the time and understandably so. It was not just the cruelty of the murder which attracted such attention but also the fact that the two women were brutally murdered and mutilated in circumstances where they presented “absolutely no risk or threat to the killer”, the judge said.

The level of violence perpetrated on them was senseless and was so fierce that perhaps the victims own appreciation of their fate was short-lived, he said.

Justice Mahon said the murders were horrific and brutal. Postmortem examinations established that they had received multiple stab wounds and that their bodies had been gratuitously mutilated. Dr John Harbison, the then State Pathologist, stated in his report that “these injuries were outside my experience in 26 years of pathology practice”.

Appeal

Opening his four-day appeal hearing last November, Nash’s lead senior counsel, Hugh Hartnett SC, told the Court of Appeal that it was an “extraordinary and unusual case” because another man, the late Dean Lyons, had “confessed”.

A short time later, while Nash was in detention on foot of the Roscommon double killing, he admitted to having carried out the Grangegorman murders five months earlier.

This sent a “tremor” through Garda Headquarters, the court heard, and various senior officers were tasked with examining how two people were confessing to the same double murder.

Dean Lyons died in 2000 and a jacket, which had been seized from Nash’s home during the investigation in the 1990s, was tested and nothing of probative value was found. Nearly ten years later, and with advances in science, DNA was found around the button threads of Nash’s jacket and the DPP decided to prosecute.

Giving background, Justice Mahon said Ms Shiels and Ms Callinan lived in the house under the general care of St Brendan’s Hospital, Grangegorman, with a Ms Mernagh who is since deceased. They were all middle-aged and had a history of psychiatric illness.

Roscommon murders

Following his arrest for the Roscommon murders in August 1997, Nash made a voluntary, “entirely unprompted” and cautioned admission of his involvement in the Grangegorman murders five months earlier.

He maintained that he had attacked the two women on his way home from Dublin city centre to Stoneybatter. He volunteered a lengthy and detailed statement and prepared a number of sketches of the location, of the knife used and the footwear worn by him that night. Also on the same day, when being ferried by gardaí from Galway to Mountjoy Prison, Nash pointed out the house where he had murdered the two women.

Nash would subsequently retract all of the admissions that he had made.

Around three weeks earlier, in July 1997, Dean Lyons was arrested and questioned at the Bridewell Garda Station in Dublin in relation to the Grangegorman murders and made admissions.

His confession had been volunteered by him to gardaí and subsequently repeated to numerous other persons. His first confession was videotaped but his second and third confessions were not; they were recorded in writing by gardaí instead.

Lyons had a history of drug addiction and homelessness. His information displayed “a certain familiarity with details of the murder … including the nature of the wounds inflicted, the number and type of weapons used and the movements of the killer in the house”.

Consideration was given to charging Nash with the Grangegorman murders in August 1997, but a decision was taken not to do so due to lack of evidence. A jacket and a pair of Caterpillar brand boots belonging to Nash were taken and analysed by the State Forensic Science Laboratory. However, nothing of evidential value was revealed.

2009 DNA evidence

In 2009, with the help of advancements in DNA forensic science, two DNA profiles were found on Nash’s jacket, “one relating to each of the Grangegorman victims”.

Nash’s lawyers tried to prohibit his trial but both the High Court and Supreme Court refused to do so.

The core aspects of the prosecution’s case against Nash were his admissions (the defence contended they were obtained while Nash was in unlawful custody), the forensic evidence (the defence contended the jacket and boots were unlawfully seized and that testing undertaken by the FSL was “entirely unreliable” due to the risks of contamination) and a Caterpillar brand boot print said to match a boot owned by Nash left in blood at the scene.

Hartnett SC, for Nash, had said the two main planks to the prosecution’s case were his client’s admissions and the DNA evidence.

Hartnett said scientists from the State’s Forensic Science Laboratory agreed that there was a risk of contamination but that it was low. Their opinion that the risk was low was based on the absence of other profiles or mixed profiles on the jacket.

“But we established that there were other profiles,” Hartnett said.

He said precautions taken by the State’s Forensic Science Laboratory in 1997 were not as acute as they were today and it emerged during cross-examination that the victims’ bed clothing had been brushed down in the same room the jacket was forensically examined six weeks later.

Justice Mahon said the grounds of appeal were “many and relate to almost all aspects of the trial”.

He said the extensive scientific evidence did not conclusively prove or disprove contamination.

In the Court of Appeals view, there were “certainly conflicts in the evidence” between scientists called on behalf of the State and scientists called on behalf of the defence in relation to the issue of contamination. Justice Mahon said the extensive scientific evidence did not conclusively prove or disprove contamination and was not so weak as to justify the withdrawal of the case or the granting of a direction to the jury.

Justice Mahon said there was clear justification for the jury to determine that the DNA profiles on Nash’s jacket were present on the jacket from the time of the double murder. Such a determination, assuming it was made, could not be said to be perverse or against the evidence.

The complexities of the trial were not limited to the manner of how Nash became involved in the investigation (his admissions, later retracted). A further complicating factor was the involvement of the original suspect Dean Lyons, who himself made “what transpired to be false admissions to the Grangegorman murders and who died in the year 2000″.

Justice Mahon said the trial itself saw many issues which required legal arguments and rulings by the trial judge. Many of those, in turn, became the subject of grounds of appeal, detailed over four days of hearing last November.

He said the various grounds of appeal had been considered in detail, particularly issues related to Nash’s admissions and the scientific evidence.

Neither those grounds nor indeed any of the other grounds of appeal, have been upheld by this court and accordingly we must dismiss the appeal.

Justice Mahon said it should be noted that in general terms, the lengthy and complex trial was conducted by a very experienced criminal trial judge in a careful, indeed exemplary, fashion and was, “in the strong view of this court, an entirely fair trial which produced a verdict well justified by the evidence”.

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Ruaidhrí Giblin

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