A two-time killer who beat dissident republican Laurence 'Bomber' Keane to death in County Kildare eight years ago has lost his appeal against his conviction for the murder.
The Court of Appeal ruled today, Friday, June 4, there were no grounds raised in the appeal to find that the trial at which Séamus Morgan was found guilty of Keane’s murder was unfair or that the verdict was unsafe.
Morgan of The Hollands, Athy, Co Kildare was sentenced to life imprisonment in January 2016 for the murder of his former friend in a dark laneway near the Greenhills estate in Athy on July 18, 2013 following a seven-day trial at the Central Criminal Court.
The 53-year-old killer had previously served an eight-year jail sentence after being found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter of James Hand (29) who was the victim of a fatal stabbing by Morgan outside The Meeting House pub on Upper Dorset Street in Dublin in 2002.
Counsel for Morgan, Seán Gillane SC, had claimed the judge in the trial for Keane’s murder, Mr Justice Robert Eagar, had erred by stating that Morgan’s previous convictions would be admissible if his legal team wanted to raise the victim’s previous convictions in evidence.
Keane (56), a former soldier, had served a 10-year prison term for possession of a bomb at Dún Laoghaire port in April 1998 that was twice the size of the one which killed 31 people, including two unborn twins, in Omagh later the same year.
Mr Gillane had also argued that the judge’s charge in relation to the identification by witnesses constituted a misdirection to the jury, as he claimed fears expressed by eyewitnesses might be seen by the jury as relating to his client when they were about “the Keane crowd”.
In a judgement delivered today, Mr Justice George Birmingham said that, in a situation where the accused had previous convictions at least as relevant as the victim's previous convictions, the observation of prosecution counsel that "what was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander" was entirely understandable.
He said the court was in agreement with the approach of the trial judge on this issue and could find "no basis whatsoever" for concluding that the trial judge’s approach involved an error in principle.
With regard to recognition evidence, Court of Appeal president Mr Justice Birmingham, presiding with Mr Justice John Edwards and Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy, said it was not easy to see why eyewitnesses to a fatal assault would be fearful about giving evidence because of their fear of the deceased or his associates.
In relation to contradictory testimony about the quality of street lighting near the location of the murder, the Court of Appeal acknowledged that the trial judge’s warning was not a strong one.
However, it ruled that the judge’s directions were adequate as the challenge to the eyewitnesses, which was robust, was almost entirely about their honesty rather than about mistaken identity.
Mr Justice Birmingham also noted that after reserving judgement in the appeal hearing in April, he suspected that that he had represented Morgan in his earlier murder trial, while Mr Justice McCarthy had prosecuted the same case.
The president said the court had been reconvened to alert both counsel for Morgan and the DPP to their recollection and that they were prepared to recuse themselves from the case and to have the appeal reheard by a different three-judge division.
However, Mr Justice Birmingham said both parties had confirmed they had no objection to the original panel proceeding with ruling on the appeal.
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