A man who was found guilty of shooting dead a father in front of his seven-year-old daughter saw an appeal against his murder conviction halted on Thursday moments after a senior judge warned him against interrupting proceedings.
Keith O’Neill (46) had pleaded not guilty to murdering John Wilson (35) on September 28th, 2012 at Mr Wilson’s home on Cloverhill Road, Ballyfermot Dublin 10.
A jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to life by Mr Justice Tony Hunt at the Central Criminal Court in May 2015.
Lawyers for O’Neill later claimed the conviction was “unsafe and unsound” and launched an appeal against the conviction.
Ronan Munro SC, for the appellant, however, was subject to numerous interruptions from O’Neill while trying to outline his client's case at a Court of Appeal hearing.
At one stage O’Neill, formerly of Lissadell Drive, Drimnagh, Dublin, but now a prisoner at Wheatfield Prison, was even warned by Mr Justice John Edwards, presiding, to stop “gesticulating and shouting” at members of the court when the appellant attempted to address the three appeal judges directly.
“There has to be certain decorum in the courtroom,” Mr Justice Edwards said, as he cautioned O’Neill that he could not speak to the judges, and he could only communicate with his legal team during a suitable juncture in proceedings.
After the judges rose to allow O’Neill to consult with his barrister and solicitor, Mr Munro told the court his client was now seeking an adjournment in order to bring a motion to allow him to amend the grounds of the appeal.
The new grounds, Mr Munro said, would refer to evidence his client claims wasn’t introduced at the trial.
Despite objections from Conor Devally SC, on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), who said it was the DPP’s view there wouldn’t be any merit in delaying the ‘longstanding matter’ any further, the adjournment was granted.
'Kernel of the case'
Earlier, Mr Munro said the “kernel of the case” against his client had been circumstantial gunshot evidence.
“And had it not been made available to the jury, there would not have been a conviction,” he added.
In a submission to the court on O’Neill’s behalf, it was stated that the trial had been unfair due to a failure by the “law enforcement authorities” to “seek and preserve evidence to have relevant gunshot residue”.
An unsealed carrier bag containing clothes which O’Neill had dumped in a skip was later retrieved by an armed garda and put in the foot well of a patrol car used by firearms officers, counsel explained.
The evidence, Mr Munro continued, had been handled in an environment where “potential contamination” from armed members of the gardaí could have occurred.
“My client is sitting there on a life sentence and thinking, ‘if the gunshot evidence hadn’t gone in, would I be sitting where I am?’,” Mr Munro added.
Counsel also pointed out that the victim’s daughter had said in evidence that the gunman had been “fat”.
“My client was a very lean person at the time,” he continued.
During O’Neill’s two-week trial, the court was told Mr Wilson had driven to his home with his seven-year-old daughter and a friend when a gunman entered his house through the open front door and shot him from behind.
The Dublin man received two gunshot wounds to the left arm and to the chest, fatally injuring internal organs.
Detective Inspector Colm O'Malley, of Clondalkin Garda Station, told Mr Devally that O'Neill had a history of drug abuse.
"Mr O'Neill worked part-time as a mechanic – at the time (2012) he had a drug addiction and was unemployed," said Det Insp O'Malley.
"He had 116 previous convictions the vast majority of which are for driving offences. The most serious was for possession of drugs with intent to sell or supply," he said.
The appeal hearing is expected to continue in the new year.