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Man acquitted of murder to be sentenced for manslaughter

Central Criminal Court
Central Criminal Court

A Limerick man whose conviction for murder was quashed following a successful appeal will be sentenced for manslaughter in October.

Kevin Coughlan (32), with a last address at Avondale Drive, Greystones, Limerick, had pleaded not guilty to murdering Francis Greene at Steamboat Quay in Limerick between November 28 and 29 2009.

He was found guilty by a jury at the Central Criminal Court and was given the mandatory life sentence by Mr Justice Patrick J McCarthy on December 22 2011.

In June the three-judge Court of Appeal found that Coughlan's trial had been unsatisfactory.

President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice Seán Ryan said the appeal arose out of the then Deputy State Pathologist, Dr Khalid Jaber's “crucial” evidence in the case.

The defence submitted that they were presented with conclusions on the cause of death that had not been notified to them in advance.

The case against Coughlan was that he had forced Mr Greene into the river where the unfortunate man met his death by drowning. “That was the case that was made”.

However, Dr Jaber also produced an opinion that Mr Greene had been strangled before he got into the water, the judgment stated.

It was “not satisfactory” that that was given “for the first time in the witness box when the Pathologist was giving evidence in the course of an important murder trial,” Mr Justice Ryan said.

“In fairness to the prosecution ... it came as news to the prosecution, as much as to anybody else,” Mr Justice Ryan said.

The prosecution dealt with this “as best they could,” the judgment stated, and the trial judge made “heroic efforts” to ensure fairness would ensue.

Mr Justice Ryan, who sat with Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice John Edwards, said it was an “unsalvageable dilemna” and as a result the trial was “unsatisfactory”.

The Court of Appeal was satisfied that the accused could have been found guilty of manslaughter as had been conceded by Anthony Sammon SC, for Coughlan.

In those circumstances, the court was satisfied to quash the conviction and find Coughlan guilty of manslaughter under section 3(1)(d) of the Criminal Procedure Act 1993.

The court could have sentenced Coughlan there and then. However, there were two disadvantages to doing that, Mr Justice Ryan said.

Firstly there had been no sentence hearing because the sentence for murder was mandatory – life imprisonment – and secondly, the accused in those circumstances would not be able to appeal his sentence and neither would the DPP.

Although its predecessor, the Court of Criminal Appeal, might well have been limited to the role of imposing sentence there and then, Mr Justice Ryan said the Court of Appeal was a Constitutional court with inherent jurisdiction to take appropriate measures “in order to do justice”.

“Fairness and justice required” that Coughlan be sentenced in the Central Criminal Court and he was due to appear for sentencing in that court today.

In the Central Criminal Court this morning , counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Patrick McCarthy SC, said there were some difficulties with prisoners coming to court this morning and Coughlan was not present.

Counsel for Coughlan, Anthony Sammon SC, told Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy that due to the late production of his client, he would ask for the matter to go back to a date in the new law term.

In light of the fact that Coughlan will be serving a custodial sentence regardless, Mr Justice McCarthy said “he will be serving a portion of his [new] sentence” in the meantime.

Subject to Coughlan's agreement, who was not present in court, the judge listed the matter for October 5 next for sentence.