The getaway driver in the "cold-blooded assassination" of gangster Wayne Whelan, who was fatally shot at least three times in the head before his body was found in a burning car in west Dublin, has been jailed for four and a half years.
Sentencing Christopher Moran at the Central Criminal Court on Thursday, Mr Justice David Keane said the defendant had successfully impeded the prosecution of the person who murdered Whelan as no one has yet been convicted of the offence, which was "as serious as could be".
Whelan (42) was shot dead at Mount Andrew Rise in Lucan, Co Dublin on the evening of November 18th, 2019. He received at least three gunshot wounds to the back of the head in a position where the killer had been sitting in the back of the car and to his right. The car in which he was sitting was then set on fire with his remains inside.
The court has heard that the victim's remains were found in the passenger seat of the burning car and he was so badly burned that he had to be identified by DNA analysis.
Whelan was well known to gardaí for his involvement in serious and organised crime for more than two decades and had been shot a number of times in a previous murder attempt two months before his death. Four men have been jailed for their roles in that attempted murder.
Last October, Christopher Moran (52), who had been on trial at the time for murder at the Central Criminal Court, pleaded guilty to being the getaway driver for the fatal shooting.
His co-accused and nephew Anthony Casserly (25) then pleaded guilty to participating in or contributing to the murder of Wayne Whelan. Both pleas were accepted by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).
The court has heard that Moran's co-accused Casserly had used his friendship to "lure" Whelan to a night out under the pretence of inviting him to watch a soccer match between Ireland and Denmark. Instead Whelan was repeatedly shot before his body was left in a burning car.
Evidence has been given that when news broke that it was likely Whelan who had been killed and set alight in the vehicle, Casserly went to Whelan's family home to "comfort" his mother. Last January, Casserly was sentenced to nine years in prison with the final two years suspended.
Before delivering Moran's sentence today, Mr Justice Keane said that Whelan was murdered between 7pm and 8pm on November 18th. The deceased and Moran's nephew Casserly were known to each other and friends, he said.
He added that there was no suggestion of any direct contact between Whelan and Moran, whereas Casserly and the deceased had been in contact with each other that day.
Regarding Whelan, Mr Justice Keane said he was the subject of a prior murder attempt and had been shot several times but survived. Whelan, he said, was therefore careful about his own safety.
CCTV showed Whelan getting into the front passenger seat of a Toyota Corolla driven by Casserly on the night, the judge said. At 7.45pm the Toyota, which was parked in the Mount Andrew estate, could be seen bursting into flames with Whelan's body in the front passenger seat.
The judge said a Volkswagen car driven by Moran was seen leaving the Mount Andrew estate.
The Volkswagen was owned by Casserly but driven extensively by Moran, he added.
'I'm guilty of giving him a lift'
Moran, the judge said, was stopped by gardaí the next day when he was driving the Volkswagen and the vehicle was seized. He acknowledged to gardaí that he had been driving the Volkswagen for some time and had the car valeted on the morning of the murder.
Moran told gardaí that he had been given a loan of a car by his nephew Casserly and said: "If I'm guilty of anything, I'm guilty of giving him a lift".
Passing sentence, Mr Justice Keane said Moran had given an account of dropping members of his family to St Vincent's Hospital that evening but CCTV footage had contradicted that assertion.
An aggravating factor in the case, he said, was that the assassination-style shooting of a "defenceless man" was a "cold-blooded one". The judge also pointed out that the circumstance of the actual offence was that Moran had driven the shooter from the scene, which compelled the court to take a more serious view of the gravity of the offence.
Another aggravating factor, he said, was that Moran's efforts to impede the prosecution of the person who murdered Whelan have been successful as no one has yet been convicted of murdering the deceased, which he described as "as serious as could be".
Mr Justice Keane set the headline sentence at eight years.
The most significant mitigation factor, the judge said, was Moran's guilty plea. He took into account the accused's cooperation with gardaí when he was detained for questioning and his absence of any recent criminal convictions.
Moran has 10 previous convictions from the District Court, with eight relating to drug offences and two road traffic offences.
Ronan Prendergast BL, for Moran, previously told the court that Moran's partner had died when he was in custody last year and he had become guardian of their child.
A probation report found that Moran had minimised his criminal offending and that he had greater knowledge of Casserly's criminal connections than he had admitted to gardaí.
The court previously heard that Moran has a chronic heart condition but a medical report submitted to the judge concluded that his medical prognosis for the future remains good if he can lose weight and the state of his health is very much in his own hands.
Mr Justice Keane reduced the headline sentence of eight years to six years on account of the mitigating factors. Furthermore, the judge said he would also suspend the final 18 months of the six-year sentence due to an absence of any convictions from 2013 until now and because of Moran's positive engagement with prison services.
Moran was sentenced to six years in prison with the final 18 months suspended for a period of three years. It was backdated to when he went into custody on December 12th, 2019.
Moran and Casserly, both of Rowlagh Park, Clondalkin, went on trial last October having pleaded not guilty to Whelan's murder at Mount Andrew Rise on November 18th, 2019. However, Mr Justice Keane discharged the jury after Shane Costelloe SC for the DPP indicated that pleas to lesser charges would be accepted by the State.
Moran pleaded guilty to an offence under Section 7(2) of the Criminal Law Act 1997 for impeding the apprehension of an offender. His indictment states that he acted as a getaway driver in the murder of Wayne Whelan.
Casserly pleaded guilty to an offence under Section 72 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 that he, with knowledge of the existence of a criminal organisation, participated in or contributed to the murder.