Killer who stabbed victim in heart during cocaine binge has appeal dismissed
Mark Crawford is serving a life sentence for stabbing Patrick 'Pa' O'Connor to death
A man serving a life sentence for stabbing a new drinking pal to death during a cocaine and alcohol bender has had his appeal against his murder conviction dismissed by the Court of Appeal.
Lawyers for Mark Crawford, who stabbed Patrick 'Pa' O'Connor to death at a Limerick bar after only knowing him for one day, had submitted that the jury were wrongly advised about the issue of self-defence by the trial judge.
Crawford (45) had been taking cocaine and drinking with Mr O’Connor (24) when he stabbed him six times, with wounds piercing the victim’s heart and neck, in Fitzgerald’s Bar on Sexton Street in Limerick City.
Crawford, formerly of Quarry Road, Thomondgate, Co Limerick, 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 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 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”.
Crawford's legal team had submitted that both men had stood up to each other when the stabbing occurred over an argument about money for cocaine.
Patrick McGrath SC, for Crawford, said the trial judge erred in "in law in her instruction to the jury on self-defence, and in particular, on the subjective elements to be considered by the jury in determining whether the prosecution had proved that the killing of the victim by the accused was not carried out in self-defence".
Mr McGrath also submitted that the trial judge erred in "directing the jury that whereas they had to apply a wholly subjective test in considering whether the accused believed he was under threat to his life or person.
They then had to apply a wholly objective test in considering whether the degree of force used by the accused in response to any attack or threat he perceived he was under was reasonable in the circumstances".
Counsel further submitted that the trial judge erred in that "she did not adequately instruct the jury on how to consider the account provided by the accused and in particular "that if the account provided by the accused could reasonably be true, they must give the accused the benefit of that account".
At the Court of Appeal today, Mr Justice John Edwards, in dismissing the appeal, set out the context of a case where self-defence was being claimed.
"Insofar as a question may arise in a fatal case as to whether the quantum of force used was reasonable or not, that issue will fall to be judged according to the circumstances as they actually were, not according to the circumstances as the accused perceived them to be," said Mr Justice Edwards.
"An asserted claim by the accused that he, or she, had used no more force than they genuinely believed to be necessary falls to be subjectively tested.
"In that event, what is being tested is the genuineness of the mistaken belief being asserted."
Mr Justice Edwards said it was argued that Mr O'Connor had stood up, causing Crawford to believe that he was about to be immediately attacked but noted there was a conflict of evidence about whether Mr O'Connor had stood up before the accused.
He said the accused's account was that Mr O'Connor stood up first and this was supported by the evidence of a witness.
"This was consistent with the accused believing that he was in danger of imminent attack as Mr O'Connor was angry over money he believed the appellant owed him for cocaine," said Mr Justice Edwards.
However, Mr Justice Edwards said: "Even if there was substance to the appellant's complaint, and we consider that there is none, it has not been demonstrated that any deficiency in the charge was so grave and far-reaching as to raise a concern that there is a real risk that an injustice was done."
He said the State's submission that the charge must be "looked at in the round" was correct.
"The trial judge's charge was detailed and thorough.
"The ingredients of murder, and the circumstances in which a possible alternative verdict might arise for consideration, were clearly set out by her.
"We are satisfied that the instruction on self-defence, both full and partial, was appropriate.
"The need for the jury to be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt as to all ingredients of the offence before convicting of murder, was repeatedly emphasised," said Mr Justice Edwards.
"It followed that if they had a doubt on any matter arising from any aspect of the evidence, including the appellant's account as given to gardaí, they could not convict of murder," he said.
Mr Justice Edwards said the judge's charge to the jury was "in no sense vague and confusing".
"The jury received a clear and detailed explication of the possible verdicts and the circumstances in which they might arise.
" There is no possibility in our view that the instruction would have been regarded as vague and confusing," he said.
"We consider that it is of significance that the appellant was represented at trial by three highly-experienced lawyers, and that a very focused defence was being run.
"The implication that the alleged deficiency in the charge now being highlighted could have been simultaneously overlooked by all of them in the circumstances is, in our view, fanciful.
"The failure to put forward any cogent reason for why the complaint now sought to be relied upon was not ventilated in a requisition [to the trial judge] is, we consider, highly telling," said Mr Justice Edwards.
Mr Justice Edwards then dismissed the appeal.
At the appeal hearing, it had been 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,” Mr McGrath told the three-judge court.
Responding to the appellant’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.”
During the trial, it emerged that 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.
Mr McGrath 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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