Young farmer acquitted of sledge hammer attack

A JURY of eight woman and four men took less than an hour to acquit a young farmer of assault causing harm to a local businessman at Kilkenny Circuit Court.

A JURY of eight woman and four men took less than an hour to acquit a young farmer of assault causing harm to a local businessman at Kilkenny Circuit Court.

Claims were made during the dramatic four-day trial of threats to kill and threats to commit arson as well as a violent assault using a sledge hammer. However late on Friday evening James McDonald, Ballinatea, Mullinavat was found not guilty of assault causing harm to Michael Murphy, Hollymount, Mountain Road, Slieverue at Ballintea on January 6, 2009.

Prosecution case

On the opening day of the trial Mr Murphy, an oil distributer said that prior to the alleged assault he was owed over e2,000 from the McDonalds for oil which had been delivered to them. “I had instructed my drivers to stop bringing oil because I was not getting paid for it. Six or seven weeks prior to the incident a third-party cheque was given to me at the garage for e900. James McDonald gave the cheque as part payment for money he owed for diesel oil he had received in June, July and August of that year. I attempted to lodge the cheque but it was returned with refer to drawer on it. I rang the McDonalds in the region of 200 times but James wouldn’t answer and Breda (the defendant’s mother) would make little of me or jeer at me down the phone. She told me to collect horses in lieu of payment. The offer was made after the cheque had bounced. I told her I was not interested in horses and that I was in the oil and not the equine business,” Mr Murphy told the court during the trial.

He added that on January 5 he received a cheque for e900 from the account of Breda McDonald. Evidence was heard that the cheque was subsequently stopped by Ms McDonald because she was unable to retrieve the original cheque for e900.

Mr Murphy told the court that on the day of the alleged assault he had unsuccessfully attempted to contact James McDonald after he received information that the cheque he had received the previous day had been stopped. “I decided to call to the McDonald house to put finalisation on the payment,” he said, adding that he had collected e130,000 from customers in the South East earlier that day. “Between 8.30pm and 9pm I got to the McDonald property. I turned in a laneway at the back of the property and it brought me to the rear of the property. I found that the gate at the end of the laneway was closed. I got out of the Jeep and saw the farmhouse in the distance. I rang one of my drivers for directions and he said that I would have to access the house from a different entrance,” said Mr Murphy.

Mr Murphy told the court that he drove down to the house and met the defendant and his mother Breda McDonald at the door. “I had a discussion about payment. I said that I had lodged a cheque which had bounced and that another cheque had been stopped and that was doing me damage in the financial institutions. James McDonald started to fume and become enraged and started ‘chesting’ me. Breda McDonald was trying to diffuse him and wind him down. I knew I had made a mistake and I tried to leave the premises and get into the Jeep. He (McDonald) blocked the door of the jeep for 10 or 15 minutes,” he added. Mr Murphy told the court that he eventually managed to leave the farmyard and alleged that he was followed by the defendant, who was driving his own Jeep. “I drove a distance and he (McDonald) was flashing me so I pulled in at the side of the road and got out. I saw him coming at me like a bull. He swung an implement at my head. I woke up some time later and he was using the same implement at the back of my head and shouting. When I woke up I felt the blows coming down on the back of my head and I knew if I didn’t try to get up I would die. I was between 25 and 26 stone in weight at the time and I managed to get three quarters of the way up and he swung the implement into my hip area and drove me a fair distance. I succeeded in getting up. He (McDonald) was watching me closely. I kept my head covered and got the Jeep opened and got into it,” he said. Mr Murphy claimed that he was followed by the defendant in his Jeep for a mile or so.

The court also heard that the defendant also contacted a peace commissioner, Dixie Kenneally who was living in the area to give him the money he was carrying. He was unable to contact Mr Kenneally and made contact with his own brother-in-law. Mr Murphy contacted gardaí and remained at Mullinavat Garda Station, which was unmanned at the time until gardaí and an ambulance arrived.

Medical evidence was given that Mr Murphy suffered a fractured skull, lacerations to the head and an injury to his leg.

Defence case

Evidence was also heard from the defendant’s mother Breda McDonald who told the court that she said Mr Murphy at the window of her house. “I went to the door and he grabbed me by the collar and said ‘you have done me harm at the bank’,” she said.

She also told the court that Mr Murphy had threatened to kill her and her son. “James came out and said ‘you always get your money’ and told him to ‘cool down’ but he (Murphy) jumped up in the air again roaring and shouting.” She also told the judge and jury that after around 20 minutes Mr Murphy left in his Jeep and that McDonald followed him down towards the back yard. Breda McDonald then got her car keys and drove to the entrance of the back lane and saw Mr Murphy getting into the jeep and driving off. Ms McDonald claimed in court that Mr Murphy threatened to kill her and her son and to burn their property.

James McDonald gave evidence that Mr Murphy ‘looked like the devil’ on the evening in question. “I told him to leave (the farmyard) and he got in his Jeep and back out slowly looking like the devil. I heard him going down the lane and braking and stopping. I ran inside to get the key of the Jeep and drove up after him.

“When I got to the head of the lane Murphy’s Jeep was parked up the lane. I drove past the Jeep and when I got to the end of the lane he was opening the gate. I got out of my Jeep and was shouting at him that he was on private property. He opened the gate and said, ‘I’ll go where the f*** I like’. I confronted him again and asked him to leave. He had a lamp in his hand and he swung it at me. I punched him in the face. He grabbed a hold of me by the neck and we went to the ground and I punched him on the way down. He said he was going to kill me, ‘you f****ing b**tard’. I went into retreat mode I was in fear for myself and for the cattle and for the hayshed going on fire. He was on top of me and it was like a whale was on top of me. I knew if I didn’t get out from under him he would do me in. I kicked for my life. He came at me again and he got off the ground and got up and headed for his Jeep. I saw my mother’s car and Murphy was gone. I closed the gate as there were cattle in there. I got back into my jeep and arrived back in the yard behind me mother.”

The 29-year-old, who broke down in tears in the witness box, strongly denied using any weapon and following Mr Murphy. “I fought for my life, my property and myself.... Once he had left the yard I was happy enough... I was only defending myself. He came in to burn down my property abroad, my hayshed” he said. He conceded that he had told gardaí: ‘I lost it, I lost it’ when he was in the garda car travelling to Thomastown Garda Station a short time after the alleged incident.

After less than an hour’s deliberation the jury returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty.