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Court hears jury in case of man who stabbed drinking buddy to death on drug bender 'wrongly advised'

Mark Crawford's lawyers are arguing a the judge in the trial in which he was convicted of murder incorrectly advised the jury about the issue of self defence

Attack: Mark Crawford was found guilty of murder

Peter Doyle

A man who stabbed a new drinking pal to death during cocaine-fuelled bender was convicted of murder after the jury were wrongly advised about the issue of self-defence by the trial judge, his lawyers told the Court of Appeal today.

Mark Crawford (44) had only known Patrick ‘Pa’ O’Connor (24) for one day when he stabbed him six times, with wounds piercing the victim’s heart and neck, at Fitzgerald’s Bar on Sexton Street in Limerick city.

Crawford, formerly of Quarry Road, Thomondgate, Co Limerick, later pleaded not guilty to Mr O’Connor’s murder on July 7 or 8, 2018, claiming he had been acting in self-defence at the time.

The jury at the Central Criminal Court, however, did not accept his defence and he was unanimously convicted of the murder charge following a trial in October 2020.

Sentencing Crawford to a mandatory life term, Ms Justice Tara Burns described the fatal attack as an act of “madness fuelled by drink and drugs”.

Crawford has appealed the conviction on the grounds that Ms Justice Burns did not adequately instruct the jury on how they should consider his accounts of events on the night in question and that the guilty verdict was therefore “unsafe and unsatisfactory”.

It has been further submitted that the judge in her charge had failed to instruct the jury that it was incumbent on the prosecution to prove that the appellant did not honestly believe that it was necessary to use reasonable force to defend himself from a perceived threat or attack.

“It may or may not be the strongest self-defence case but it was a self-defence case from the start,” Patrick McGrath SC, for Crawford, told the three-judge court at today’s hearing.

Responding to the defence’s submissions, John Fitzgerald SC, for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), said the issues raised by Mr McGrath had been “fully opened and canvassed in front of Judge Burns”.

“This really is a situation where the dog didn’t bark,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

“The test [of self-defence] is well established and understood and the jury was charged unimpeachably,” counsel continued.

“This was a confrontation in a pub, where the parties had been together and Mr Crawford produced a knife. Mr Crawford had been by the door and could have left.”

Judgment has been reserved.

During the trial, it emerged Crawford and Mr O’Connor had been taking cocaine together before the pair began to argue over drugs in Fitzgerald’s Bar.

Barman Cyril O'Connor told the court that he saw Mr O'Connor and the accused "arguing but in a whispered tone" and he heard €50 being mentioned.

He said the atmosphere was "edgy" in the bar that evening.

Describing the attack, he said: "All I heard was a chair move, there wasn't a word, a shout or a scream. As I looked to the left I could see the accused striking Patrick in the neck area."

The barman said the defendant was leaning into Mr O'Connor and used his right hand to hit him as Mr O'Connor sat in the chair.

Patrick McGrath SC, defending, put it to the barman that he was mistaken about Mr O'Connor sitting in the chair and suggested that both men had "stood up to each other" before his client had stabbed the deceased a number of times as he had felt under threat.

The witness denied this was the case saying: "It's a photograph in my head of the accused holding Mr O'Connor and striking him."

Crawford’s wife, Karen Crawford, said she had collected her husband from outside Fitzgerald’s that night.

She said blood was dripping from his hands and he was crying.

"I kept asking what happened and he said something bad," she told the court.

Mrs Crawford said her husband told her what had happened the following day.

“He was really upset and said 'what am I after doing to that boy as he was my friend'," she said.

She told him that he needed "to hand himself in" but he said he "needed to get his head straight".

Crawford later told gardai that he thought he was going "to get jumped" and he "got the fear" when the argument with Mr Crawford started.

"I didn't think I'd kill him. I did it more so he wouldn't come back on top of me. I thought he was going to kill me, beat me or stab me,” he said.

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