Homeless murder-accused dramatically changes plea to 'guilty'

CourtsBy Natasha Reid
Guilty: Ciaran Moran
Guilty: Ciaran Moran

A 29-year-old homeless man has pleaded guilty to murdering another homeless man, who was found ablaze in a Dublin park with his toe amputated.

He changed his plea from not guilty after a judge ruled that his trial jury should hear his descriptive confession to the murder.

The Central Criminal Court heard that 36-year-old Gerard Donnelly had almost €150,000 in funds just weeks before Gardaí found his body on fire in the Phoenix Park. The father of one died of blunt force trauma to the head before being set alight and having his little toe amputated.

Ciaran Moran, with an address at Camden Hall, Camden Street in Dublin was charged with murdering Mr Donnelly at an unknown time during November 28th or 29th, 2013. However, he pleaded not guilty to the murder and went on trial last week.

The jury heard five days of evidence, including that Moran was aware that the deceased had a lot of money and that a photograph of a severed toe was sent from Moran’s phone the night after the murder.

Jurors were also shown CCTV footage of the accused walking towards the scene shortly before the killing and of him lodging and spending money the following day.

The trial heard that gardai investigated a blaze near the Wellington monument in the early hours of November 29th. They found Mr Donnelly’s body on fire, with an aerosol can in his crotch area. A canister with a blow torch attached was also found at the scene.

Mr Donnelly was identified through DNA testing.

State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy, pictured below, concluded that he had received multiple blows to the head from a heavy object and that a lump hammer found beside the body could have been the weapon used. She said that the skull was extensively fractured and the brain was injured.

She noted areas of fire damage under the head and neck, a v-shaped wound to a thumb and that the left little toe had been freshly amputated.

The trial heard that Mr Donnelly was living in the park at the time and the accused in a hostel.

However, a garda testified that he met the deceased in the park on October 29th that year, and that Mr Donnelly had €8,500 in cash and a bank book showing a balance of €140,000 at the time.

Other witnesses testified that the accused didn’t stay in his hostel on the night of the murder, but checked into a B&B between 2am and 4am.

He bought new clothes, expensive head phones and a €600 bicycle the following day. He then told an acquaintance that he had killed Mr Donnelly because he (the deceased) had been accused of interfering with children.

The nine men and three women of the jury were asked not to come to court on three days this week. During this time, the defence made an application not to allow certain evidence to go before them on their return.

This included Moran’s confession to the murder made in a video-recorded interview while in garda custody. The video, played in the jury’s absence, showed the accused telling gardai that he ‘was going to be paid for killing Gerry’ with hand guns, hand grenades and other weapons.

He said he had hit him over the head with the lump hammer ‘a couple of times’ before taking a picture of him ‘as proof of death’ and cutting off ‘the baby toe… with a snips’.

He said he then poured white spirits over him and set him on fire. 

He was asked why he had cut off his victim’s toe.

“Well I was trying to cut one of his fingers off, but it wouldn’t fit around it,” he replied. He later explained that he planned to show it to the person who had asked him to do it.

The court was also shown a letter containing admissions that the accused wrote and sent from his prison cell.

Ms Justice Margaret Heneghan today ruled against the defence application and allowed the evidence to be called. Patrick Gageby SC, defending, was given time to consult with his client.

All sides, including the jury, later returned to court and Mr Gageby asked that Moran be re-arraigned and have the indictment put to him again.

Dressed in a pink, striped shirt, he stood up as the registrar read the charge to him and asked him how he pleaded.

“Guilty,” he replied.

The judge discharged the jury and Caroline Biggs SC, prosecuting, asked for an adjournment for the preparation of victim impact evidence. The judge, who must impose the mandatory life sentence, adjourned the case until Wednesday next.

Moran picked up a box of files and spoke to his legal team before being led away by prison officers.