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Verdict reached Darren Houlden cleared of murder but found guilty of manslaughter of Stephen "Apples" Kavanagh


Darren Houlden

Darren Houlden

Darren Houlden

A man who was wearing blood-stained clothes and carrying a knife when he walked into a garda station and admitted to stabbing a fisherman 40 times has been found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter by a Central Criminal Court jury.

The panel of eight men and four women unanimously accepted the defence case that Darren Houlden had "lost control and snapped" when he stabbed Stephen "Apples" Kavanagh in a "frenzied attack".

It was the defence contention that "fear" was at "the heart of the case" and the accused was not only afraid for "his own skin" but that the victim had also threatened his family, which had "set him off".

Defence counsel Brendan Grehan SC with Edmund Sweetman BL asked for a verdict of manslaughter on the basis of the partial defence of provocation, which can reduce an intentional killing from murder to manslaughter.

Mr Grehan said provocation was an act done by the deceased to an accused, which would cause a reasonable person "a sudden and temporary loss of self-control" that meant he was no longer master of his own mind and compel him to act in a way that he would not ordinarily act.

Evidence was given that Houlden drove to Arklow Garda Station covered in blood at around 00.35am on the morning of May 6 following a weekend of smoking crack cocaine and taking a medley of drugs with the victim and his girlfriend.

The accused handed a "bloodied knife" to the member-in-charge at the hatch of the public office and told him: "It's my fault. I attacked him. It's all on me."

Houlden told gardai in his interviews that Mr Kavanagh was angry when he discovered that his cocaine was missing and made a phone call to someone saying: "There is trouble down here, your stuff has been taken, get bodies down here."

The accused told detectives that he begged Mr Kavanagh not to make a second phone call after the victim threatened him that "gangsters" would bring him to "the woods" and shoot him over the missing cocaine.

Whilst Mr Kavanagh was making the second call on the upstairs landing, Houlden said he was "like a lunatic" and "went into a rage" as he "went for" the deceased's brain with the knife.

Mr Kavanagh's girlfriend Rachel Kearney gave evidence that she saw the accused "slaughtering" and "overkilling" her boyfriend.

The witness said that Houlden was on top of her partner and had his knees on his back as he stabbed the victim.

The juror rejected the State's case that Houlden was not "provoked" and no loss of control was evident by how the defendant had "weighed up his options" and "reasoned things out in his mind" before attacking Mr Kavanagh.

In his closing speech, prosecution counsel John Fitzgerald SC remarked that the missing cocaine was later found without any great difficulty by gardai in a bookcase in the accused's bedroom, which the barrister said was very hard to reconcile with the "life and death situation" presented by the accused.

Houlden (44), with an address at The Crescent, Meadowvale, Arklow, Co Wicklow had pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to the manslaughter of Mr Kavanagh (37) at the same location in the early hours of May 6, 2019.

However, his plea was rejected by the State.

Former Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis testified that Mr Kavanagh died after receiving "around 40 knife wounds" to the head, neck and face, which included the slicing of the right jugular vein and the thyroid artery, which cut the pharynx in the victim's throat.

The 12 jurors found Houlden not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter by unanimous verdict after three hours and 16 minutes considering their verdict.

Following today's verdict, Ms Justice Carmel Stewart thanked the jury for the attention they had given the case. "You serve a very important function in our criminal justice system and I thank you again," she added.

Ms Justice Stewart exempted them from jury service for the next five years.

The judge expressed her condolences to the Kavanagh family saying: "The court appreciates the difficulty visited upon you and it can't have been easy to sit through the evidence during the course of the trial."

Ms Justice Stewart adjourned sentencing until February 1 and remanded Houlden in custody until that date, when a victim impact statement will be before the court. The judge also directed a probation report.

The trial heard that Mr Kavanagh's phone records showed that he made a call to his friend Rory "Tar" Kavanagh at 10.24pm on May 5.

Under cross-examination, Mr Kavanagh agreed with Mr Grehan that the deceased man had asked him to go to the accused's house in Meadowvale that night.

However, the witness denied that the victim had asked him to come to Meadowvale because some of his crack cocaine had gone missing and he wanted help with the problem.

The court also heard that an unsuccessful call, lasting one second, was made from Mr Kavanagh's phone to another friend, Jason Farrell, at 00.18 on the morning of May 6.

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Online Editors