LATEST: Two-time Kildare killer asks for Athy murder conviction to be overturned

Court of Appeal

Eoin Reynolds


Eoin Reynolds

LATEST: Two-time Kildare killer asks for Athy murder conviction to be overturned

The defendants are facing trial before the Central Criminal Court

A man who beat dissident republican Laurence 'Bomber' Keane to death 11 years after he killed another man has asked the Court of Appeal to overturn his murder conviction.

Seamus Morgan (53) was jailed for life in 2016 for murdering Keane, a 56-year-old who himself served a prison term for possession of a bomb that was twice the size of the one used to kill 31 people, including unborn twins, in Omagh in August 1998.

Morgan, with an address at The Hollands, Athy, Co Kildare, had previously been found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter for the killing of 29-year-old James Hand in 2002. Mr Hand was stabbed to death outside a Dublin pub. Morgan served eight years for that killing.

He then beat his former friend Keane to death in a dark laneway near the Greenhills estate in Athy late at night on July 18, 2013. He pleaded not guilty to murder but was convicted by a jury at the Central Criminal Court in 2016 and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Morgan's hearing today, Friday, April 16, at the Court of Appeal was delayed for about one hour due to a "withdrawal of goodwill" by prison officers in Mountjoy Prison. When he was finally brought to the video-link booth in the prison, his lawyer Sean Gillane SC told the three-judge court that his conviction should be overturned because of three alleged errors by the trial judge.

Mr Gillane pointed to the evidence of Ricky Moriarty and Nathan Robinson, who said they saw his client attacking Keane on the night of the murder in the area where his body was later found. One of them had said during cross examination that he was, "afraid of my life, I didn't want to get involved in anything like this" and the other spoke of not wanting to talk about what he had seen.

Mr Gillane said that the jury was likely to conclude that the witnesses were afraid of his client, whereas Mr Moriarty had told gardai that he was afraid of "the Keane crowd".

Mr Gillane therefore asked the trial judge for permission to introduce evidence of Keane's criminal background. The judge ruled that if Mr Gillane did so, the prosecution would be allowed to call evidence of Morgan's manslaughter conviction. The judge cited Section 33 of the Criminal Procedure Act (2010) which states that where the defence impugns the deceased, the prosecution can call evidence of the accused person's previous convictions or bad character.

Counsel argued that this was an error by the trial judge as the purpose of introducing Keane's previous convictions was not to "blacken his name", but to correct the misleading suggestion that the witnesses were afraid of Morgan.

Mr Gillane also argued that the trial judge did not correctly warn the jury about the dangers of relying on the witnesses' ability to recognise his client, given that they did not know him intimately but just as a "person around the town". He further submitted that the judge did not adequately summarise evidence that identification would have been made more difficult because of how dark the lane was.

Orla Crowe SC for the Director of Public Prosecutions said Mr Gillane had wanted to introduce evidence of the deceased's previous convictions "simply to blacken his name". She said there were multiple possible reasons why the witnesses may have been afraid and it is speculation to suggest the jury presumed it was related to Morgan.

Addressing the recognition evidence she pointed out that during garda interviews the accused had put himself in the lane around the time of the murder and DNA evidence revealed blood matching the deceased on Morgan's shoes. She said the judge's warning on recognition evidence was "perfectly acceptable" and that all matters had been dealt with "in a correct manner by the judge and the conviction should stand."

Mr Justice George Birmingham, presiding, with Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy and Mr Justice John Edwards, reserved judgement.

Previous convictions

Morgan was sentenced to eight years in July 2005 after a jury found him not guilty of murder but guilty of the manslaughter of 29-year-old James Hand, who was stabbed to death outside a Dublin pub. He had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Mr Hand, of Mountjoy Square, Dublin 7, on or between August 22 and September 5, 2002, at The Meeting Point pub on Dorset Street Upper.

In 1998 Keane himself pleaded guilty to having 980lb of an explosive mixture and devices, with the intent to endanger life or enable another to do so, at Dun Laoghaire port on April 2 of the same year. He was sentenced to 15 years in jail by the Special Criminal Court but the term was reduced to 10 on appeal.

The court heard that the explosives were twice the size of the bomb used by the Real IRA in Omagh in 1998 and gardai believed that the likely target of the Real IRA was the Aintree Grand National.

At the trial in 2016 prosecution counsel Tom O'Connell SC said Keane was attacked shortly before midnight but did not die until the following day. He was, counsel said, "very badly battered about the head with an object which caused him severe fracturing of his skull in at least four places."

Nathan Robinson told the court that he was cycling with his two friends at around 10pm when he saw "a bit of a scuffle at the top of the hill at St John's Lane. Jimmy Morgan (the accused) and Larry Keane were scuffling. I saw Jimmy swinging three times going 'you bastard, you bastard'."

When asked by prosecution counsel Mr Tom O'Connell what was Mr Morgan swinging, Nathan Robinson replied: "I don’t know, it was about 12 inches long.”

Ricky Moriarty was cycling with Nathan Robinson and said he "heard these noises" when he got up the hill and he saw Larry Keane being beaten with a bar in the head by Jimmy Morgan.

Detective Sergeant Sean Boland, of Newbridge Garda Station, told the court that on July 19 2013 he went to Seamus Morgan's house to carry out a search where a pair of blood-stained runners was seized. Forensic scientist Dr Hilary Clarke, of the Forensic Science Lab said she developed a DNA profile from blood that matched the DNA profile of Larry Keane. 

Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis said Mr Keane's cause of death was "severe blunt force trauma to the head."
He added: "The deceased had been struck ten significant blows to his head on both sides and there were some lacerations of full and partial thickness. An examination of the brain showed there had been severe bruising to the tissue of the brain."