Irish Independent

**archived article from 07 February 1999

The twists and turns from capital murder to manslaughter

Det Garda Jerry McCabe

The trial of four men accused of the murder of Det Garda Jerry McCabe was dominated by controversy, writes Sinead Grennan

FOUR men appeared before the Central Criminal Court on January 12 charged with the capital murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. Their apparent disdain for the proceedings was to be remarked on throughout the trial. It grated against the anger emanating from the ranks of gardai and the silent grief of Det McCabe's widow.

On day one of a trial that was expected to run for months, Edward Comyn SC, prosecuting counsel, laid the State's case before the court. Det Garda Jerry McCabe and Det Garda Ben O'Sullivan were escorting a postal van on a round of deliveries in County Limerick on June 7, 1996. The van contained £81,000 in cash when it stopped outside the Adare Post Office at 6.50am. As part of a well-planned robbery, a Pajero jeep rammed the garda car from behind. Two men in balaclavas approached the driver's window and fired shots into the car, killing Det McCabe and critically wounding Det O'Sullivan.

Pearse McCauley (34), Michael O'Neill (46), Kevin Walsh (42) and Jeremiah Sheehy (36) were charged with capital murder, attempted murder and other charges relating to robbery and possession of firearms. They pleaded not guilty on all counts. A fifth man, John Quinn (30), was charged with conspiring to commit a robbery. He also pleaded not guilty.

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'Castlerea 5' - click for larger view

On day two of the trial, Det O'Sullivan recounted to the court the events of that dreadful day when his partner and friend was shot dead without warning. He described the silence between the rounds of automatic fire, the impact of the shots, his awareness that Jerry was ``in great difficulty'' and the chaos that ensued. ``When the shooting ceased, I heard shouting,'' he said. ``But I had no idea what was being said. I called Jerry three or four times. I said `Jerry, Jerry, Jerry'. There was no response. I then put my small finger on my left hand onto his wrist. There was no pulse.''

Det Garda Ben O'Sullivan's testimony won't easily be forgotten. Even those who heard it secondhand felt its raw emotion. The images he created were too stark, too real.

More evidence was presented over the following days. A pathologist explained that Det Garda McCabe would have died quickly, killed by a fatal bullet in the back which collapsed both his lungs and severed his spinal column. A ballistics expert described the types of bullets and guns used and a detective produced a Kalashnikov in court for further explanation. The court heard how garda fingerprint specialists were unable to identify the defendants' fingerprints on the two cars used in the raid, despite an exhaustive examination.

The second week of the trial was dominated by controversy over garda statements and uncooperative witnesses. Patrick and Sally Walsh, the father and sister of one of the accused, were declared hostile witnesses after repeatedly telling the court they couldn't remember the events of June 6, the night before the attempted robbery. They said they couldn't recall making statements to the gardai and Sally Walsh claimed she had been threatened by gardai.

Patrick Harty (52), an unmarried County Tipperary farmer, was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for contempt of court when he refused to give evidence. He couldn't give any reason for his actions.

Then there was the `trial within a trial' to decide on the admissibility of a garda compilation video of Republican commemorations which had been shown to two witnesses. The witnesses identified two of the accused in the video. The court ruled the video evidence admissible, but one of the witnesses went on to say he had been threatened before the trial. He refused to name the source of the threat.

The State's case was weakened further by legal arguments over the admissibility of verbal admissions made to gardai by one of the accused, John Quinn. During the seven weeks spent in custody, John Quinn was brought to the casualty unit of Limerick Hospital three times. Hospital doctors were called before the court and said there was no evidence of injuries. A garda inspector told how the prisoner pretended to faint in order to frustrate interrogating officers. Gardai denied that Mr Quinn had been mistreated while in custody.

The most surprising twist came last week when the State changed its charge to manslaughter. Prosecuting Counsel Edward Comyn explained to the court that the State couldn't establish intent to cause murder. Then events moved very quickly. The defendants pleaded guilty to the new charge and the three judges passed sentence on Friday morning.

Click for Coiste's web page on the Castlerea prisoners.

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