Clare farmer loses appeal against murder of student

Joe Heffernan
Joe Heffernan

A Clare farmer jailed for life for the murder of a 21-year-old student in 2011 has lost an appeal against conviction on grounds that the prosecution ought to have proved that he did not have diminished responsibility at the time.

Joe Heffernan (35), of Cappagh Beg, Barefield, Ennis, pleaded not guilty to the murder of Eoin Ryan whose body was found in a barrel on Heffernan's farm at Cappagh Beg on June 7 2011.

He was found guilty by a jury at the Central Criminal Court and was given the mandatory life sentence by Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy on July 3 2013.

During the trial two 999 calls were played to the jury, who were also given transcripts of the calls.

“Hello. This is Joe Heffernan. I’m after killing a man,” the caller told Garda Claire O’Shaughnessy, who identified her voice on the first recording.

“He came onto me and I killed him. I’m not gay or nothing you know,” he said.

“I’m going to kill myself. I’m not going to prison,” he added.

“The devil was in him you know. The devil was in his eyes,” he said. “I could see him in his eyes.”

The caller said he did not mean to kill anyone.

Heffernan had moved to appeal his conviction earlier this year on grounds that the onus of proof ought to have been on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not suffering from a mental disorder and had diminished responsibility at the time.

However, dismissing his appeal today, Mr Justice John Edwards said the Oireachtas could not have intended that different burdens and standards of proof apply in cases of the insanity defence and the partial defence of diminished responsibility.

When section 6.2 of the 2006 Act stated that “it shall be for the defence to establish” that the accused is not liable to be convicted of murder, it was, in the Court of Appeal's view, beyond doubt that this meant the accused bore the burden of persuasion in respect of his entitlement to avail of the partial defence, Mr Justice Edwards said.

It was a burden of persuasion to the same standard as would apply if he was relying on the defence of insanity namely proof on the balance of probabilities, he said.

To impose different burdens or standards would make no sense, Mr Justice Edwards said.

Accordingly, Mr Justice Edwards who sat with President of hte Court of Appeal Mr Justice Seán Ryan and Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan, dismissed the appeal.