A 30-year-old man has lost his appeal against conviction for murdering his girlfriend and mother of his infant son.
He had acknowledged that since he lodged it, there had been two relevant legal decisions regarding intoxication that might have made his sole ground of appeal unviable.
Adam O’Keefe was sentenced to life imprisonment in July 2018, after he was found guilty of the murder of Amy McCarthy in a squat in Cork city.
He had denied the murder but admitted the manslaughter of the 22-year-old on April 29th or April 30th, 2017 at a building on Sheares Street.
The issues raised in his defence were intoxication, lack of intent and provocation. However, a Central Criminal Court jury reached a unanimous verdict of guilty.
Dean Nugent, who was living on the streets at the time, told the trial that he had intervened when O’Keeffe first attacked his girlfriend that night.
They had been drinking in the city before returning to a squat in a derelict office block, where they were living. He said that O’Keeffe then began hitting his girlfriend again, accusing her of cheating on him, something Mr Nugent said was not true.
“I tried to stop him but I couldn’t do anything,” he testified. “I told him to stop but I was on the streets and I was in rag condition. I was begging him to stop but he was hitting her with his fists, strong blows.”
Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster said that Ms McCarthy died from a complex combination of factors, including blunt force trauma to the head, manual strangulation and acute alcohol intoxication after being assaulted by O’Keeffe.
O’Keeffe had expressed remorse for killing her but insisted he never intended to kill her.
“It is the biggest regret I have,” he told gardaí. “I am sorry to her family. She is the love of my life, my soulmate.”
Ms Justice Eileen Creedon said it was an extremely sad and tragic case where a young woman with her whole life in front of her had died through needless violence. She jailed O’Keeffe for life.
He appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeal on Tuesday this week. His barrister, Brendan Grehan SC, said that the core complaint was that the issue of intoxication was not addressed by the trial judge as a factor in the provocation defence. She had addressed it as a separate issue, but not how it would impact the sudden loss of self-control required for a defence of provocation, counsel submitted.
Mr Grehan noted that O’Keeffe was present in the physical courtroom, while the court sat remotely. This was at his own request.
He also noted that his client had lodged his appeal and submissions some time ago, but had requested that his appeal be adjourned throughout the pandemic so that he could attend in person.
Influence of drinks or drugs
However, since then, there had been two Supreme Court judgments addressing intoxication as part of provocation.
“It would seem the court will have to consider these two decisions. The situation… as regards intoxication, is that it can have no import at all in terms of provocation,” he said, before quoting from them.
“That rage must not be fuelled by intoxication on drink or drugs,” ruled Justice Peter Charleton in one case in June 2020. “The total loss of self-control in consequence of provocation cannot be because of intoxication on drink or drugs. The accused’s actions are to be considered as if he or she was not acting under the influence of drink or drugs when the accused killed the victim.”
The second judgment mentioned by Mr Grehan was also delivered by Justice Charleton in June of last year.
“In no jurisdiction is a person to be judged on the basis of his or her state of mind as fuelled by drink,” it stated. “The subjective test cannot be so extended that the limited nature of the defence of intoxication is extended to allow any drunken or drugged notion to partially excuse a complete lack of self-restraint.”
Seán Gillane SC responded on behalf of the DPP, saying that the two decisions of the Supreme Court ‘disposes of the matter’.
Justice Úna Ni Raifeartaigh, who sat with Court President Justice George Birmingham and Justice Patrick McCarthy, on Wednesday delivered judgement.
She said that the passages on intoxication in the Supreme Court judgments carried significant weight, even though they were ‘Obiter Dicta’ (a judge's expression of opinion, not essential to the decision). This was in part due to the fact that seven Supreme Court judges had been involved in the two judgments.
She said that there was no error in the manner in which the trial judge had addressed provocation, and this had now been ‘put beyond doubt’ by those two Supreme Court decisions.
The Court accordingly dismissed O’Keeffe’s appeal.