30 Sept 2022

Jury in murder trial of Kilkenny man 'must focus on the question of intent' - trial judge

Jury in murder trial of Kilkenny man 'must focus on the question of intent' - trial judge

Central Criminal Court, Dublin

The jury in the trial of a homeless man who admits killing his friend but denies it was murder must focus on the question of intent, the trial judge has told them.

Damien Singleton (31) of no fixed abode, has pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to the manslaughter of Peter Donnelly (then 39), also of no fixed abode but originally from Kilkenny, on O'Connell Street in Dublin in the early hours of June 11, 2019.

The defence have argued that Mr Singleton's mind was 'polluted, contaminated by a cocktail of alcohol and drugs' and that this meant he could not have formed the intent to murder Mr Donnelly.

The prosecution however, has told the jury that being intoxicated with drugs or alcohol was not a defence and that it was only applicable if the defendant was incapable of either knowing what he was doing or was incapable of knowing the consequences of his actions.

Today (Wednesday) at the Central Criminal Court, Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy in her charge to the jury told them to put 'gut feeling aside' and not be influenced by 'anger or disgust' about the killing of father-of-one Mr Donnelly.

The court has heard that Mr Donnelly was stabbed twice - once in a jugular vein and once in the aorta - with a knife that Cork native Mr Singleton carried in his tracksuit.

Mr Singleton denies forming the intent to murder or cause serious injury to Mr Donnelly, which the prosecution contends is the issue for the jury to decide upon.

Ms Justice Murphy told the jury of six men and five women to 'dispassionately and critically analyse the evidence to find out what happened'.

The judge said that it was accepted that Mr Singleton killed Mr Donnelly and that they should consider what text messages and a voicemail on Mr Donnelly's phone from Mr Singleton 'signify' to them.

The court has heard that about an hour before the fatal stabbing, Mr Singleton had contacted Mr Donnelly saying, "I promise you, I'll slit your fucking throat. Pray I don't get you. I'm going to slaughter you. You're dead."

The trial has heard that the two men were friends and that Mr Singleton had given €50 to Mr Donnelly and wished him well as he caught a bus to Kilkenny to collect a social welfare payment earlier on the day of the killing.

Ms Justice Murphy told the jury that comments during the trial made by either defence, prosecution counsel, or the judge, could be 'taken on board, or vice versa' but that they were not facts or evidence.

The judge said the jury could make inferences from the facts in the case but that they were not entitled to speculate on the evidence to 'fill in the gaps'.

Regarding whether or not Mr Singleton intended to kill Mr Donnelly, Ms Justice Murphy said there was no question of self-defence featuring in the case but that the State  had to prove to the jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Mr Singleton 'at the time, intended to kill Peter Donnelly, or cause him serious harm'.  

"The question you have to focus on is a question of intent," the judge told the jury. 

Ms Justice Murphy said the jury should consider whether or not any accused person 'intended the natural and probable consequences of their conduct'.

By way of example, the judge said that if she shot the jury foreperson but thought she [the judge] was holding a toy gun at the time, then the aspect of intention could be accepted as rebutted. The judge then referenced the recent on-set tragedy regarding actor Alec Baldwin who, the judge said, was handed a prop gun that turned out to be loaded, resulting in the death of a cinematographer.

Ms Justice Murphy said that it was up to the jury to decide whether or not intoxicating 'drugs and/or alcohol' had made Mr Singleton incapable of forming the intent to kill Mr Donnelly, which the defence had argued at trial.

At around 11am on the morning after the stabbing, a doctor, when looking for consent for surgery to injuries to Mr Singleton, found him to be 'incoherent, out of it', said the judge. Ms Justice Murphy said if the jury, therefore, had a doubt about Mr Singleton's ability to form intent, then 'the answer is manslaughter but if there is no doubt, the verdict is murder'.

When examined by the doctor after his arrest, it was discovered that alcohol, morphine, benzodiazepine and cocaine were in Mr Singleton's system on the night.

Ms Justice Murphy also reminded the jury that the defence had argued that the accused had not used intoxication as an excuse and had pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

The judge said that Michael Bowman SC, for the defence, had argued for the jury to put matters in perspective and that he had, in his closing speech, referenced a television advertisement in which a skinhead" is running at a 'businessman in a bowler hat' but that when the camera draws back it reveals that the skinhead is trying to save the businessman from a falling piano.

Ms Justice Murphy said the defence is arguing that Mr Singleton carried a knife for protection and had been the victim of an attack in which his face had been 'slashed'.

The judge reminded the jury that the defence argued that people in a situation similar to Mr Singleton carried knives for 'protection and this is a fact of life for people whose lives are blighted by drugs and drug addiction'.

During the trial, Mr Bowman said that if there were two possible inferences to be taken from the facts in the case - one favouring the prosecution and the other favouring the defence - the jury must decide in favour of the defence.

The judge told the jury that the defence's argument is that, on the night, Mr Singleton's state of mind was 'polluted' so much so such that he could not have formed an intent to kill Mr Donnelly.

'Manslaughter, or murder,' Ms Justice Murphy told the jury. The judge then charged the jury that if all the evidence before the court showed that Mr Singleton had formed the intent to kill or causing serious harm, which they found beyond a reasonable doubt, then they should return a verdict of murder.

At 2.10pm, the jury retired for their deliberations, which due to Covid restrictions, are being carried out in the body of the courtroom. At 4pm, Ms Justice Murphy released the jury until tomorrow (Thursday) to continue their deliberations but warned them not to talk to anyone about the proceedings, adding that they were 'now at the sacred heart' of the trial.

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