Kilkenny man sentenced to life in prison for murder by single stab wound

CourtsBy Sunday World
Tadhg Butler was sentenced to life in prison today for murder
Tadhg Butler was sentenced to life in prison today for murder

A 34-year-old Kilkenny man has been handed down a life sentence after been found guilty of murdering a 25-year-old man with a single stab wound to the chest in Waterford last year.

Tadhg Butler, with an address at Seafield in Tramore, Co Waterford was charged with murdering Michael O'Dwyer at that address on 10th January, 2014.

Butler, also known as Thomas O'Grady and originally from Kilkenny, pleaded not guilty to murdering his fellow Kilkenny man but after a period of two hours and 26 minutes a jury of four men and eight women brought in a unanimous verdict of guilty.

Butler dismissed his legal team on Tuesday last, a week into the trial. He then recalled his nephew, who was a witness in the trial, for cross-examination in what Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy described as an "exceptional situation".

Mr Justice McCarthy backdated the murderer’s sentence to January 9 2014, the date Butler has been in custody since.

The aunt of the deceased Edel O’Neill today (FRIDAY) read out a victim impact report on behalf of her nephew where she said the hardest thing they ever had to do as a family was to tell their eighty three year old mother on the morning of January 10 2014 that her twenty five year old grandson had been killed in such a brutal and violent manner.

Michael’s “senseless death” is something as a family they will never be able to understand or come to terms with. The court heard all they can think of is Michael lying on that footpath, on that cold night, feeling afraid and terrified, with none of his loved ones there to hold him.

In the early hours of January 10 2014, they were the family who got that dreaded knock on the door which changed their lives forever.

“Our life as we knew it can never be the same again. It was especially hard when we heard that Michael’s life had been taken by another person,” read Ms O’Neill.

The court heard how Michael’s dad had been diagnosed with cancer in 2009 after putting up a fight for two years before he passed away in June 2011.

“Michael was very good to help and look after his dad during the illness. He would often lie in bed with him, playing music and chatting with his dad. Michael had some hard struggles of his own to deal with but he always cared for other people,” she read.

His aunt told the court that Michael was a very inoffensive young man and his mother Geraldine still waits for his phone call to tell her that he is on the way home for his dinner.

“His bedroom has never been touched since that awful night. Geraldine wants it left untouched as she wants to keep the scent of Michael because, apart from her memories and photos, it is all she has left of Michael,” read Ms O’Neill.

The jury heard Michael and his four brothers were very close, they were not just brothers but “very close friends.” Michael could be very shy at times and it could also be said he lacked confidence.

Two of Michael’s passion’s was music and making videos with his many friends, as well as doing crazy dance routines.

“We cherish those video and facebook clips now, as they show how fun loving and up for the laugh that he was,” she read.

Lastly the courtroom heard that on the day when Michael’s mum dropped him to Kilkenny, he said to her that he might find a good woman and settle down.

“This of course will never happen now. Little did Geraldine know that it would be the last time for her to see her son, her baby, alive” read his aunt.

“It was hard enough for us to lose Eddie, Michael’s dad, but to have to turn around and bury Michael beside him, a mere two and a half years later, was totally unbearable,” concluded Ms O’Neill.

In his opening speech, prosecuting counsel Mr Dennis Vaughan Buckley SC said that on January 10 2014, Butler was arrested on suspicion of assault causing harm to Mr O'Dwyer and he was brought by the gardai to Tramore Garda Station.

Mr Luke Green (23) from Kilkenny, one of the four men present at the scene on the night was the first witness called to give evidence.

The jury heard how he and two friends, the deceased Michael O'Dwyer and another friend Anthony O'Grady, the nephew of Butler, got a taxi from Kilkenny to the accused's house in Tramore on the evening of January 9 2014.

During the course of the trial, a statement was read to the jury which was taken from the nephew of the accused, Anthony O’Grady who said his uncle stabbed the deceased in the chest with  a foot-long butcher knife.

Prosecution counsel Mr  Vaughan Buckley read the statement to the jury which was taken on January 10 2014 by Detective Sergeant Colm Furlong of Kilkenny Garda Station.

The barrister read how Anthony was sitting on the stairs on Thomas's phone talking to a friend when Michael came out and put his arm around Anthony seeing was he alright as Anthony was upset about his brother Mark.

Reading from Mr Anthony O'Grady's statement, Mr Vaughan Buckley said: "Michael sat down beside me on the stairs, we were chatting away. I can't remember about what. As we were talking Thomas O'Grady walked out of the kitchen, he walked up to us and at the last second I saw him lift a butcher knife from beside his leg and stab Michael into the chest.

"Michael collapsed forward straight away. Thomas walked back to the sitting room and started drinking. Thomas never said a word. The knife was like the biggest knife out of a set you would buy and Thomas held it in his right hand. I say the blade was a foot long. I saw it when Thomas pulled it out of Michael's chest, it was covered in blood. Michael was sitting to my left hand side on the same step as me. This all happened in the blink of an eye."

"I said what are you doing Thomas man. Thomas said nothing and walked away. I lifted up Michael and carried him outside the apartment. Luke had been asleep during what had happened. He had woken up with me screaming."

When Anthony O'Grady was cross examined by defence counsel Mr Brendan Grehan SC, Mr O'Grady told Mr Grehan on countless occasions he didn't remember anything from the night as he had been on prescription painkillers Zimovane's for three days solid and drinking whiskey.

Mr O'Grady told the court: "The next morning D/Sgt Furlong came up for me, I didn't sleep that night I was still out of my brain, that interview shouldn't have been taken for me, I was under duress, I had tablets in my system and drink."

"Do you remember seeing your uncle stab Michael O'Dwyer?" pressed Mr Grehan

"No," replied Mr O'Grady.

"Do you know how Michael O'Dwyer came to be stabbed?" asked Mr Grehan

"In the chest but I've no memory of it," replied Mr O'Grady.

Garda Colm Nolan of Tramore Garda Station told barristers during the trial that as he approached the scene in the patrol car on the night, he saw the accused "bolt or run into Seafield".

His colleague then checked the door and it was locked so two guards then forcefully entered the house after smashing a panel on the door before it eventually opened

Garda Patricia Lonergan also attached to Tramore Garda Station and who was at the scene on the night said that Butler was later arrested at the side alley of the house, he was carrying a Supervalu plastic bag which contained Fosters beer and a laptop.

The former partner of the Kilkenny man gave evidence during the trial that when she visited the accused in Cork prison in January 2014 and he told her he stabbed the deceased once.

Mary Rose Burke said she had five children with the accused and was no longer in a relationship with him, having split from him more than three years ago.

“I asked Thomas what happened that night,” she testified. “He told me he didn't remember much about that night, he had taken Valium and drank whiskey but he was good friends with the boy and had only stabbed him once."

State Pathologist Prof Dr Marie Cassidy told the murder trial jury how the 25 year old died from a single stab wound to the left side of his chest and how the depth of the injury into the chest was 8cms.

Dr Cassidy said the deceased died following a knife assault from a single stab wound to the front left side of the chest which entered his heart and left lung.

The court heard there was no evidence of any defensive type injuries on the arms or hands of the deceased and Mr O'Dwyer was pronounced dead at Waterford Regional Hospital at 1.35am on January 10 2014.

Garda Paul O'Flynn of Tramore Garda Station who was involved in the extensive search by gardai around the house in Tramore also told the court that apart from two black handled knives recovered, no other knives were found at the scene.

Forensic scientist Sarah Fleming from Forensic Science Ireland (FSI) who examined two knives from the scene as well as a broken glass and swabs of Butler's hands, told the court that she found no blood on the two knives produced to her and no blood on the accused's hand swabs.

On Tuesday of this week Butler dismissed his legal team and asked to recall his nephew, Mr Anthony O’Grady for cross-examination, in what Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy described as an "exceptional situation".

During the cross-examination Butler put it to Mr O'Grady that he (Anthony O’Grady) went to the kitchen to get a knife on the night as he said he was going to cut himself with a knife and he also had a previous history of self-harming with knives.

Butler said to his nephew: "When you came from the kitchen into the hallway, you were trying to cut yourself with a knife and I was trying to get the knife off you. Basically a scuffle broke out in the hallway, I was trying to get the knife off you, eventually I got the knife off you with force and the knife went straight into Michael O'Dwyer's chest. I stuck it in his chest but it was accidental, I’m not trying to establish suspicion or guilt on your behalf."

"You’re saying a scuffle broke out with us and you had a knife? Lies," replied Mr O'Grady.

"You said in statements to guards that you were off your head, do you feel the account you gave to gardai on January 10 2014 was the right account to give, where you said I went into the kitchen and stabbed a knife into Michael's chest and he collapsed. It didn’t happen like that, it happened with you and me having an argument in the hallway, you were trying to cut your arms, so you can’t  remember that?" asked Butler.

"No," replied Mr O'Grady.

"Is it possible that could have happened?" asked Butler.

 "It could have happened but sure I can’t remember," replied his nephew.

In his closing speech the prosecution counsel urged the jury to use "common sense" after the accused said he stabbed the deceased by accident.

Butler began his closing speech by telling the jury how he had no qualification or degree in law but he would try to explain to them as best he could what happened.

Butler said he had a "change of heart" half way through the trial as Mrs O’Dwyer has the right to know how her son passed away under these tragic circumstances. He said when he told the gardai he couldn't remember, he wasn't prepared to speak to the gardai at the time.

"The explanation I can give you for not owning up and telling it like it was and what happened in Seafield was because I didn't want any more suffering on my sister's doorstep. Her son had passed away under tragic circumstances," said Butler.

Concerning Butler sticking a foot long knife into the deceased's chest, he called it an "absolute ludicrous accusation" that his nephew had made against him.

The judge told the 12 members of the jury they were exempt from jury service for the next ten years, however it wouldn't stop them from serving if they wanted to but it gave them an entitlement to say no.

By Alison O'Riordan