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Gangland thug loses appeal against conviction for murder of dad of six

CourtsBy Sunday World
Noel Crawford
Noel Crawford

A Limerick man jailed for life for the murder of a father-of-six in a case of mistaken identity almost 10 years ago, has lost an appeal against conviction.

Jonathan Fitzgerald (26), of South Claughan Road, Garryowen, Limerick, had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Noel Crawford outside his parent's home in O'Malley Park, Southill, Limerick on December 18, 2006.

The Central Criminal Court heard that Mr Crawford, a father-of-six, was gunned down in a case of mistaken identity on his 40th birthday.

A jury found Fitzgerald guilty of Mr Crawford's murder and he was given the mandatory life sentence by Mr Justice Barry White on February 9, 2011.

Dismissing Fitzgerald's appeal against conviction today, Mr Justice George Birmingham said a Ms Laura Kelly was a very significant prosecution witness at trial.

She gave evidence that three youths, including Fitzgerald, had arrived at her home on the date in question. She described how Fitzgerald and one of the other youths put on bullet proof vests and left her house with a shotgun.

She subsequently heard the sound of gunshots and moments later the same two youths returned. According to her evidence, Fitzgerald said “I got him, I got Paul Crawford”, the Court of Appeal's judgement stated.

In an application to amend the original grounds of appeal, Hugh Hartnett SC, for Fitzgerald, said Ms Kelly ought to have been treated as an accomplice by the trial judge and, accordingly, the jury ought to have been warned about the dangers of convicting on her evidence.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the defence sought to undermine the evidence of Ms Kelly by suggesting she was currying favour and seeking advantage from the gardaí in respect of alleged “transgressions that she had been engaged in”.

The defence did not raise the issue of whether she might be regarded as an accomplice, Mr Justice Birmingham said, and the trial judge, in the course of his charge, was assiduous in putting before the jury the actual basis for defence's challenge to her evidence.

The trial judge did not address the issue of whether she was an accomplice - an issue the defence had shown “no interest whatever”, Mr Justice Birmingham said.

In the Court of Appeals view, the judge could not be faulted for putting before the jury the actual case presented by the defence and not one that, while open on the papers, was one the defence had shown no interest whatever.

It must be recognised, Mr Justice Birmingham said, that introducing warnings in relation to issues which had not featured at trial can serve to dilute the impact of what is said and to divert attention from the actual case being put forward.

Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice Alan Mahon, said the court was satisfied that the judge's charge together with his willingness to address issues raised by the defence, “dealt comprehensively with the real issues in this case”.

The appeal therefore “must be dismissed”, the judge said.

by Ruaidhrí Giblin