Jonathan Dowdall is finally set to take the stand as State witness in Regency Hotel murder trail
The former Sinn Féin Councillor once faced the same high stakes as Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch, a life sentence if found guilty of murder, but with a hand of cards he changed his fate and instead turned witness against his one-time friend.
And now the day comes, the day he will stand and face Hutch in the Special Criminal Court and reveal how he was tricked and used by the veteran mobster and that The Monk is a killer.
The testimony of Jonathan Dowdall has been much anticipated and is regarded by both the media and the members of the public, who gather at the courts every day, as the pinnacle of the case.
In circumstances so unusual, we have already heard the bond they shared back in 2016, as together they drove to Northern Ireland where the State say The Monk hoped to meet paramilitaries who could hammer out a peace deal between his clan and that of the Kinahans.
The tapes, which this week were admitted into evidence after consideration by Justice Tara Burns and her colleagues Justice Sarah Berkeley and Justice Grainne Malone, reveal a friendly rapport between the pair, who laugh and joke while they discuss matters as diverse as the Regency Hotel shooting to the singer Imelda May.
But gone now are the pleasantries, the concern and the fawning of Dowdall, for when he stands in the witness box – as early as this week – he will be a man on a mission, hell-bent on detailing what he says is the truth of the plotting and planning of Hutch and his associates of a cold-blooded and brutal murder.
With the legal issues surrounding the tapes decided, the trial is expected to move on to Dowdall and to the evidence the State hopes he will give under oath.
It is likely that his remarkable transformation from murder accused to State Witness will be picked apart by the Defence, headed up by Brendan Grehan SC.
Why Dowdall felt a sudden urge to tell his truth years after the murder of David Byrne – when he was facing life in prison himself – will surely form a large part of the early days of next week’s hearing.
The status of the Witness Protection Programme, often the subject of debate, could also be raised during the days preceding the testimony of Dowdall.
In Ireland, the programme remains operational, ungoverned by legislation, in the same ‘haphazard’ form that Justice McCracken criticised during the appeal of Paul Ward’s murder conviction, saying there were no clear guidelines as to what the witnesses would get for performances in court.
The arrest of Dowdall and his route from accused to State witness is likely to be cross examined in great detail over the course of the week before he can start his evidence.
But when he does, the Courts of Justice are likely not only to be heavily policed but to be filled with people hoping to grab a seat for the occasion.
In previous high-profile trials, members of the public have queued to get into courts which are open to spectators.
Given the size of the Special Criminal Courts those seats will be limited and will already be filled with members of the media, there to report on the historic trial.
One person who is sure of a front row pew is The Monk, who together with his co-accused, Jason Bonney and Paul Murphy, will be present for every word of Dowdall’s evidence – and indeed his cross-examination, which could take days.
Just three more weeks loom before the Christmas break, which will call a halt to the lengthy trial if it is still going on by December 23.
By that time, Dowdall, if finished his testimony, could begin his relocation under the Witness Protection Programme with a new identity for him and his extended family who have also been accepted onto it.
But in a trial with many twists and turns each day can bring its own surprises.
The trial continues.