Witness says he saw manslaughter-accused violently swinging golf club at alleged victim

Accused: Paul Brannigan
Accused: Paul Brannigan

A lethal disruption of heart rhythm occurring as a result of a blow to the chest directly over the heard at a critical time caused the death of an alleged victim of manslaughter, a court has heard.

Chief State Pathologist Marie Cassidy told the jury in the trial of Paul Brannigan (24) that the blow had to occur within a 30 millisecond window during the cycle of a heart beat.

One millisecond is a thousandth of a second, the court heard. The total cardiac cycle has a duration of one second.

Mr Brannigan, of Ratoath Drive, Finglas, Dublin has pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to the manslaughter of Jason Saunders at Fassaugh Avenue, Cabra West on March 18, 2014.

He has further pleaded not guilty to assaulting Mr Saunders causing him harm and to producing a golf club in the course of a dispute at the same date and location.

Earlier this week a shop-keeper testified that he saw a scuffle between Mr Brannigan and Mr Saunders on Fassaugh Avenue near his shop.

He said he saw the accused head-butted Mr Saunders before violently swinging a golf club at him a number of times. The victim walked away and Mr Brannigan returned to his flat, he said.

Today  Patrick Kirby told the jury he was driving along Fassaugh Avenue when he saw a young man run between two cars and out in front of him. He said the man changed his direction before falling on his face on the road.

Emergency services staff came to the scene and attempted to resuscitate Mr Saunders using CPR. He was transferred by ambulance to the Mater Hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.

Prof Cassidy gave evidence of carrying out a post-mortem examination of the man's body that day. She said bruising to the chest wall and a rib fracture were likely caused by being struck to the chest by a blunt instrument.

She said a golf club could have caused the injury, likely due to a swiping of the club head. She concluded that the the cause of death was commotio cordis, a “lethal disruption of the heart rhythm occurring as a result of a blow to the chest directly over the heart”.

“It's an unusual injury and an unusual cause of death,” she said, explaining that the blow must disrupt the heart movement at a precise moment to prove fatal.

She agreed with Colm O'Briain BL, prosecuting, that the same blow could be struck at a different point in the heart beat and it would not be fatal.

Defence counsel Conor Devally SC put it to Prof Cassidy that the evidence that Mr Saunders continued to walk between cars and to avoid an oncoming car before collapsing was inconsistent with her conclusion.

He said in cases of commotio cordis detailed in medical research, half the victims collapsed instantaneously. The half that didn't,did not travel a known path, recognise a car and take evasive action or make the distance Mr Saunders made.

The witness disagreed. She said people have been standing, crying, speaking and skating before ultimately collapsing.

“He would be capable of purposeful movement for some seconds before he collapsed,” she said.

The trial continues before Judge Patrick McCartan and a jury of six women and six men.