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Trial verdict

Man acquitted of murder on self defence grounds after stabbing 24 year old in his house

Member’s of the dead man’s family expressed their shock and upset after the verdict was delivered.

LAST UPDATE | 31 Mar 2023

A 33-YEAR-OLD MAN who stabbed a man in his own home in self defence because he believed his life was in danger has been acquitted of murder by a jury at the Central Criminal Court.

The panel of nine men and three women returned their majority verdict to Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring this afternoon, agreeing with the defence case that Matusz Batiuk was entitled to defend himself when he came under attack in his own home. They had deliberated for a total of nine hours and 54 minutes over three days.

Batiuk had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Michael McDonagh (24) at a housing estate in Swinford on November 16, 2020.

Ms Justice Ring thanked the jury for their service in what she described as a very difficult trial and excused the panel from jury service for a period of ten years.

“This has been a difficult trial and a difficult decision to reach,” Ms Justice Ring said. “All I can do is thank you very much for your jury service.”

“The system couldn’t work without you and it is important that people like yourselves make time available.”

15 minutes prior to returning their verdict, Ms Justice Ellen Ring told the panel that if ten or 11 of them were in agreement in the case, then she was in a position to receive a majority verdict in those circumstances.

Members of McDonagh’s family cried and expressed their shock and upset after the verdict was delivered.

Trial Summary

Matusz Batiuk had never wavered in his position. The first detective on the scene who arrested him in his Co Mayo home told the trial that when cautioned, the accused replied: “I stabbed him Sinead. I done it in self-defence”.

Over the course of four interviews with gardai, Mr Batiuk told officers that he didn’t want to kill anyone.

He added: “I was very frightened and I thought he was going to kill me.” “I was defending myself, but I could die too, I didn’t want to die.”

It was the State’s case that Batiuk (33), a Polish national who lived at the Carrabeg Estate in Swinford, intended to commit murder when he reached for the knife and “plunged” it into Michael McDonagh’s stomach at the housing estate on November 16, 2020.

The defence, however, said that Batiuk had felt threatened by McDonagh and feared for his life, and he inflicted the single stab wound in self-defence. The accused had told a psychiatrist that he felt bullied by 24-year-old McDonagh, who was a physically bigger man than he was.

Key Witness

Paul Maughan, who was the key witness in the case, gave evidence that he and Mr McDonagh had been drinking on 16 November before they went to the accused’s home, where he and McDonagh continued their session. He said that McDonagh had a bottle of vodka and a bottle of Lucozade with him and was “a little bit drunk”. The jury heard that Batiuk did not drink with them.

Maughan said that after this “me and Michael got two bottles of wine” from a Chinese takeaway, confirming to prosecuting counsel, Desmond Dockery SC, that they did not pay for the wine.

Defence counsel Vincent Heneghan SC put to Mr Maughan a statement made by a woman working in the Chinese takeaway, from which the two bottles of wine were stolen.

The woman said that Maughan was “in worse shape, maybe drunk”, while McDonagh seemed fine.

She said that the two got angry and took wine from a stand, to which she informed them she was going to call the gardaí. At this point, she said McDonagh started to threaten her. She told gardaí that McDonagh said he knew who she was and would “slice” her.

She said that McDonagh said “look at me”, while pointing to a scar over his eye.

Maughan said he did not remember this. He also said he did not remember McDonagh threatening the woman by saying he had a weapon.

The jury heard from Sergeant Thomas McIntyre that Maughan made a short statement to gardai, in which he claimed that on the night: “Matthew went for Michael and then he went for me. He had a knife in his right hand. I pushed him away but got my thumbs cut by him. He went for Michael with the knife; he got him down and tried to do him; stab him.”

“He used terms like ‘he put Michael down with the knife and tried to do him’, and ‘he went for Michael before he went for him’. He was definitely under the influence of some intoxicant,” said Sgt McIntyre.

The jury heard evidence from Dr Blaise Brunker GP, who confirmed to Dockery that he examined Maughan at Swinford Garda Station and noted a laceration on each of Maughan’s thumbs. He said that Mr Maughan told him the wounds had been caused by a knife and he had been defending himself.

The doctor told Dockery that it was his opinion that the lacerations on Mr Maughan’s thumbs were caused by a knife.

However, in the witness box during the trial, Maughan told a completely different story. He instead claimed that the injuries to his hands were caused when he broke a wine bottle and that he in fact did not witness the fatal stabbing.

Maughan, a resident of Newpark, Swinford, Co Mayo, also gave evidence that McDonagh had a carpet knife with him when they went to Batiuk’s house on the day of the stabbing.

In his evidence to the trial, Maughan said they went back to the accused’s house, where he was unable to open one of the wine bottles. “I was trying to put my fingers down onto the cork and the bottle broke, so I got two cuts on my hand,” said Maughan.

Dockery asked him whether he had anything sharp in his hand, to which the witness replied that he had a knife.

“I was using the knife to put down the cork,” he said. The witness went on to say that Mr McDonagh also had a knife.

“It was a carpet knife. He showed it to me at my home and put it into his pocket,” said Maughan.

“I went into the bathroom to wash the blood off my hands and when I came out, Matusz was at the door. He said, ‘Go home,’ and I said, ‘I’m not going without Michael.’ The kitchen door was shut. Matusz made a call to the guards outside the front door and the guards came then,” said Maughan.

Dockery asked when it was he had realised what had happened to Mr McDonagh, to which Mr Maughan replied: “The next day.”

“Did you see Matusz stabbing Michael?” asked Dockery.

“No,” he replied.

An angry conversation

Heneghan asked Maughan if he recalled a conversation that took place in the house in which he was angry with Mr Batiuk because he accused him of sleeping with Maughan’s sister.

“You were angry and threatening to Batiuk,” said defence counsel.

“No, that didn’t happen,” replied Maughan.

Defence counsel said that Batiuk had made a call to gardaí looking for assistance on the night, as he said that Maughan was fighting with him. Maughan denied he had fought with Batiuk.

Heneghan asked Maughan if Batiuk had any reason to fear Maughan, to which the witness replied he did not.

“You’re now serving a prison sentence – what for?” asked Heneghan.

“For stabbing Matusz,” replied Mr Maughan.

Remarkably, the witness confirmed that he broke into Mr Batiuk’s house in August 2020 and stabbed him in the side. He confirmed that he stabbed him twice with a butter knife and then picked up another knife and stabbed him in the ribs.

“He wouldn’t let you in and you broke in and stabbed him. Do you still maintain he has no reason to fear you?” asked defence.

“Yeah,” replied the witness.

‘Closer, closer, closer’

In a statement to gardaí, Matusz Batiuk said that McDonagh and Paul Maughan had accused him of sleeping with Mr Maughan’s sister.

He said the two men were shouting and “I was scared of them”.

He claimed McDonagh then said to Maughan: “If you want me to, I’ll hurt him for you.”

Batiuk told gardaí Maughan replied: “Hurt him.” Under cross-examination by Batiuk’s defence counsel however, Maughan denied he ever said this.

In his garda interviews, Batiuk said McDonagh had followed him into the kitchen and was hitting his hand into his fist “in a threatening manner”.

“I was very frightened and I thought he was going to kill me,” Mr Batiuk said.

He said he saw a knife and picked it up as McDonagh kept coming forward towards him. The accused said he was sure McDonagh was going to kill him.

He said he told him to stop and then “I stabbed him in the stomach to keep him from killing me”.

Batiuk said McDonagh kept coming “closer, closer, closer”. The accused said he stabbed him “only once” in the stomach.

“I didn’t try to kill him. I tried to hurt him and go home, to stop him,” he said.

A pathologist in the trial told the jury that there was no way to determine the force used in the single stab wound, saying it was “unfortunate” that the knife severed a vital artery causing death.

Dr Kathleen Han Suyin gave evidence that someone “could have walked in” to a knife held by another, which would result in a stab wound of at least 12cm. However, she also said that such a wound could be caused by someone exerting force when stabbing.

Dr Han Suyin, who conducted the post-mortem on McDonagh, said the knife entered the fascia of the abdominal muscle and severed the right common iliac artery, which carries blood to the pelvic region and legs. The artery is towards the back of the body, and the witness said that the depth of the wound was at least 12cm.

Dr Han Suyin said the wound caused extensive acute and rapid blood loss, which was not possible to survive.

Mental illness

During the trial, forensic psychiatrist Dr Jamie Walsh told prosecution counsel, Desmond Dockery SC, that Batiuk has paranoid schizophrenia, which was likely active at the time he stabbed McDonagh. He referred to one of the accused’s interviews with gardaí, in which Batiuk said that McDonagh and another man present in his home, Paul Maughan, “acted like Gestapo”.

“I see them, I feel them, they tried to kill me. I have feeling they try to do something, like a signal, a signal in my head. Everybody have signal in their head,” Batiuk said in an interview with gardaí.

Dr Walsh confirmed to Dockery that the accused’s mental disorder at the time of the stabbing was likely to have resulted in a paranoid state.

Testifying for the defence, Dr Stephen Monks said that the evidence strongly suggested Mr Batiuk was psychotic and experiencing persecutory delusions in the weeks leading up to the incident.

Dr Monks told Heneghan it was his opinion that Batiuk had ongoing fluctuating paranoid symptoms before, during and after the stabbing and displayed the “obvious signs of an active psychotic illness”.

He said that the accused’s mother had described her son as “a ticking time bomb” around the time of the stabbing.

Both experts said it was appropriate for the jury to consider whether Batiuk’s responsibility was diminished at the time of the stabbing.

In the closing statement for the prosecution, Dockery said that when Batiuk took a knife and plunged it into McDonagh, he did so with the intent of murder.

He said McDonagh was a much-loved family member whose life had been “snuffed out” by Batiuk’s knife that evening.

In the closing statement for the prosecution, Heneghan said that his client acted in self-defence when he stabbed McDonagh.

He said that a 999 call made by the accused before the stabbing showed that Mr Batiuk was looking for assistance from gardaí to get people out of his house.

“You don’t phone the guards expecting them to come and then go out and kill someone. This goes to my client’s state of mind,” counsel said.

“I submit to you that a single stab wound, defending yourself from someone who is in your house, that you don’t want in your house and who is with someone who has stabbed you before, is reasonable force.”

In her charge to the jury, Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring told them of the verdicts open to them. She explained that if they were satisfied that Batiuk had the intention to kill or cause serious injury and it was proved beyond reasonable doubt that it was not self-defence, the verdict would be guilty of murder.

She said the verdict would be not guilty of murder, if the prosecution had failed to prove he was not acting in self-defence and the jury felt he honestly believed it was self-defence and the level of force was reasonable.

Ms Justice Ring said that the verdict should be not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter, if the jury felt it was unproven that he was not acting in self-defence and he subjectively believed that it was necessary to use force, but the force was not objectively reasonable and was excessive.

She said the verdict should be guilty of manslaughter if the jury were not satisfied that the intention to kill or cause serious injury was there, but Batiuk assaulted McDonagh in a manner that led to his death.

The final verdict the jury could consider, said the judge, was not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.