Stephen Penrose 're-engages' solicitor in murder trial

The accused man had earlier dispensed with what was his second legal team
Stephen Penrose 're-engages' solicitor in murder trial

Alison O'Riordan

Stephen Penrose, who is accused of murdering a man who met a "gruesome death" in a Kildare woods, has this afternoon "re-engaged" his solicitor, while his junior counsel might return to represent him at trial, the jury has heard.

The accused man had earlier dispensed with what was his second legal team.

On Monday morning, Mr Justice Alexander Owens told the 12 jurors to concern themselves "with the evidence and not the why's as to why" the accused had dispensed with his second legal team.

However, at 2.30pm today, the judge informed the jury that Mr Penrose had "re-engaged" his solicitor Mr Michael French, and he understood that junior counsel Mr Eoghan Weldon BL might return to represent the accused tomorrow. The accused has not retained his senior counsel Mr Anthony Sammon SC.

The 38-year-old is continuing to decline to attend his trial, which is in its fourth week at the Central Criminal Court.

At the outset of the case on October 13th, the judge told the jury of eight men and four women that the accused Mr Penrose had dispensed with the services of his legal team, which he was entitled to do, and they should not draw any inference from that.

Mr Penrose then represented himself and went on to cross-examine the victim's mother, Angela Finnegan, who told him she believed that another man was involved in the killing of her son Philip Finnegan.

'Ballyrag'

Mr Justice Owens later warned Mr Penrose that he would be taken to the cells and banned from participating in his own trial if he continued to "abuse" and "ballyrag" witnesses.

The judge said he would not allow his courtroom to become "a circus" after Mr Penrose accused a garda inspector, whom he was cross-examining, of lying under oath.

On October 20th, Mr Justice Owens informed the jurors that the accused had hired new lawyers but had declined to continue attending his trial and the case proceeded in his absence.

The court heard on that date that Mr Michael French was appointed as the accused's solicitor and Mr Anthony Sammon SC alongside Mr Eoghan Weldon BL were representing him.

The jury spent last Friday listening to the content of Mr Penrose's six initial garda interviews, in which he told detectives that he heard his missing friend was “sitting in Jamaica eating a Big Mac". The accused also told gardaí that he heard the victim had been "chopped up" in the Dublin mountains.

In his fourth interview, the defendant insisted that he would not be going on trial for "any Finnegans". "Put me in custody. I'll be swinging on a rope. I don't know anything," he added.

Mr Penrose, of Newtown Court, Malahide Road, Coolock, Dublin 17, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Philip Finnegan (24) at Rahin Woods, Rahin, Edenderry, Co Kildare on August 10th, 2016.

Shallow grave

The trial has heard that Mr Finnegan went missing before his decapitated body was found buried in a shallow grave in a Kildare woods.

Prosecution counsel Brendan Grehan SC today began reading the seventh interview given by Mr Penrose to gardaí on September 2nd, 2016, when Mr Finnegan was the subject of a missing person investigation.

Mr Penrose told gardaí in his initial interviews that he parked up his car at the turn off for Kilcock on August 10th and Mr Finnegan had run over to another car to meet someone.

"Then a fella walked over towards me, I can't remember if I opened my door. The minute he came over he swung a knife towards me. I think I went to block it. I just drove, as I was driving I saw two people scuffling with Phillip. I just kept driving. I pulled into a petrol station to get petrol and my arm just started pulsing blood, [sic]" he said.

At the beginning of the fifth interview, Mr Penrose changed his account and told gardaí that the last place he had seen his friend was at the accused's old house in Broadford in Co Kildare as Mr Finnegan had arranged to meet people to collect a shotgun.

Map

Garda Laura O'Brien agreed with Mr Grehan today that the accused drew the investigation team a map in his seventh interview to mark the area where he had pulled in his car and circled a "staggered crossroads" [the four roads don't come together] at Clonuff in Broadford.

The witness agreed with Mr Grehan that this was a different location to the accused's house at Broadford, where he had previously indicated that he had met a group of men in a black car.

When asked how Mr Penrose came to draw a map, Garda O'Brien said that detectives were asking the accused about locations, and he had volunteered "to draw a map for clarity".

In the seventh interview, the accused agreed with officers that he had parked his car on the back road, where himself and Mr Finnegan smoked a joint. "I was confused earlier, everything is the same apart from the exact location," said Mr Penrose.

As the trial was taking place this afternoon, the accused's former solicitor Mr French handed a note to the solicitor for the prosecution and Mr Grehan told the judge that a matter had arisen.

The judge then asked the jury to leave the courtroom.

When the jury returned to the courtroom a few minutes later, Mr Justice Owens addressed them saying: "Mr Penrose has re-engaged his solicitor Mr French and I understand his barrister Mr Weldon might be back tomorrow."

Interview

In his eight interview, gardaí asked the accused why he was lying as he had given three different locations as to where Mr Finnegan had been bundled into a car. "Cause I was in fear of my life," he replied. "No more lies, sick of ye, it happened where I said it happened," added Mr Penrose.

The accused said in his ninth interview that Mr Finnegan met at least three other people on August 10th, and they had "bundled" him into the car. "I was driving off and saw them piling him into the car....Philip was with me until I got to those crossroads," he said.

When asked why he had changed his runners that day, Mr Penrose replied: "I don't know. I'm confused."

Mr Penrose was released from his detention after the tenth and final interview took place on September 2nd, when Mr Finnegan was still considered a missing person, the court heard.

The trial continues tomorrow before Mr Justice Owens and the 12 jurors.

In his opening address, prosecuting barrister Mr Grehan said that Mr Finnegan's decapitated body was found buried in a shallow grave in a Kildare woods. Counsel said Mr Finnegan had "certain troubles in the past" and had taken to wearing a protective vest.

The lawyer also told the jury in his opening address that attempts had been made to cut up and burn the body of Mr Finnegan, who had been missing for almost a month and who had met a "gruesome death".

Significantly, the barrister said, the jury will hear evidence that a bloodied glove was found in the woods which was a DNA match to the accused man Mr Penrose.

Evidence has been given that Mr Penrose's phone connected to a cell site close to the area where the victim’s body was found.

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