Seizure of computer in ‘Mr Moonlight’ murder case was unlawful, Supreme Court rules
The implications of the bombshell decision are not yet clear
The Supreme Court has ruled the seizure of a computer from the home of convicted killer Patrick Quirke was unlawful.
The implications of the bombshell decision are not yet clear as the court said it would have to hear further argument on the consequences of the decision.
However, it is possible the court could allow a retrial.
Material found on the computer formed part of the circumstantial case against Quirke, who was convicted in 2019 for the murder of love rival Bobby Ryan.
In a ruling this morning, a seven-judge panel rejected one ground of Quirke’s appeal, relating to the discretion of the DPP to call witnesses at trial.
However, it upheld his second ground, which related to the validity of a search warrant used to seize a computer from his home.
In a judgment delivered by Mr Justice Peter Charleton, the court found that the warrant should have- been specific that it was anticipated computers might be seized during the search.
He said the seizure of a computer related to the “non-physical space” and the “automatic loss of privacy rights on a large scale”
“The seizure of the computer was unlawful,” he said.
The judge said this was the only order the court was proposing to make at present and that further argument is required as to any consequences that flow from this ruling.
Quirke (53), of Breanshamore, Co Tipperary, was convicted by a majority verdict of ten to two, following a trial which lasted 71 days.
Mr Ryan (52), a part-time DJ known as Mr Moonlight, disappeared on June 3, 2011, after spending the night at his girlfriend Mary Lowry's home in Fawnagown, Co Tipperary.
His body was discovered in a run-off tank on Ms Lowry's farm, which Quirke had been renting, on April 30, 2013.
The prosecution alleged Quirke carried out the killing so he could rekindle an affair with Ms Lowry, a widow with whom he had a relationship with between 2008 and 2010. Quirke is married to her late husband Martin's sister, Imelda.
It was alleged the discovery of the body was staged by Quirke as his lease was to be terminated and he was about to lose control of the land.
Quirke's trial heard a warrant was sought and obtained from the District Court in respect of his home on May 13, 2013.
Gardaí executed the warrant four days later and among the items seized was a computer.
An examination of the computer revealed that an internet search for "a human corpse post-mortem: the stages of decomposition" was conducted on July 25, 2012.
It also appeared that further internet searches on human decomposition were performed on December 3, 2012.
Quirke took issue with the search warrant for several reasons, including that the sworn information grounding the application for the warrant did not make any reference to computers but did refer to "any other evidence".
In the Supreme Court, his counsel Bernard Condon argued the District Court judge who issued the warrant was not given all the necessary information.
While the warrant listed other items, such a clothing, keys, jewellery, a murder weapon and “any other evidence”, it did not specify computers.
He argued that for proper judicial oversight in relation to the warrant, there had been a duty of candour for gardaí to disclose what they were looking for. Computers had been discussed by investigating gardaí prior to applying for the warrant.
Michael Bowman SC, for the DPP, had argued there was no legal requirement to outline exactly what evidence gardaí suspected might be found when applying for a warrant.
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