Murder accused tell court of moment he shot detective garda 11 times

Stephen Silver was giving evidence at his own trial, where he has said he was suffering from a mental disorder and was having "confused thoughts" on the day of the shooting
Murder accused tell court of moment he shot detective garda 11 times

Eoin Reynolds

Stephen Silver has described to a Central Criminal jury the moment he struggled to take Detective Garda Colm Horkan's gun before striking him with the butt of the weapon and shooting him 11 times as the garda fell to the ground.

The accused said it happened so fast he had no time to think, adrenaline was flowing and, he said, he was trying to protect himself.

Stephen Silver was giving evidence at his own trial, where he has said he was suffering from a mental disorder and was having "confused thoughts" on the day of the shooting that resulted in the detective's death.

Under cross-examination he told prosecution counsel, Michael Delaney SC, that he had been admitted to psychiatric units 17 times since 2003.

He told his trial that he stopped taking his medication because he felt it slowed him down and he believed he could control his condition.

His last hospitalisation was in September 2019, nine months before the fatal shooting, but he stopped taking his medication within days of being discharged, he said. Mr Delaney said: "That was a choice you made when you were well, knowing the possible consequences."

Mr Silver replied: "I never thought it would end like this. I thought I had control of it, I really did. I would see it coming and I would avoid it."

Mr Delaney pointed out that this was after 17 admissions to psychiatric units. "I know yeah," Mr Silver replied.

"And that choice was made by you because you preferred how you felt," Mr Delaney said.

"I did yes, that’s true," Mr Silver replied.

Mr Silver (46), a motorbike mechanic from Aughavard, Foxford, Co Mayo has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Det Garda Horkan knowing or being reckless as to whether he was a member of An Garda Siochana acting in accordance with his duty.

He pleaded guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility, at Castlerea, Co Roscommon on June 17th, 2020.

Ashamed of behaviour

Mr Silver finished his direct evidence on Thursday, telling his counsel Roisin Lacey SC he is ashamed of the way he behaved during his garda interviews following the shooting.

He apologised to the Horkan family "for the hurt I caused", and added, "there's not a day goes by I don't think about it".

He said that his behaviour during the interviews, which the jury have watched, was "not normal for me, not normal at all. Only when I'd be sick. That's the first time I'd ever seen anything like that, seen myself acting like that."

Talking about the moments before the shooting, he said he was walking with his friend James Coyne along Patrick St at the junction with Main St, Castlerea, when a dark-coloured car came up behind him.

The car passenger side window was half down and, he said, "a man was staring at me so I put my head down to the window and he asked me who I was".

He said he gave the man his name and asked who he was and heard him say that he was a garda, just as Gda Horkan was getting out of the car.

Gda Horkan was wearing a Tommy Hilfiger jacket which Mr Silver thought was "strange" and not something a garda would wear.

He didn't believe he was a garda and added: "He came around the front of the car, round the bonnet, and he came at me very quickly, he was within a few inches and squared up to me as if to start a fight."

Mr Silver said he told Gda Horkan to keep two metres away, as per the Covid prevention guidelines, and Mr Silver put his right hand up "to keep him at arm's length".

Mr Silver said he then relaxed and put his arms down at his side. "I thought there was going to be no hassle and I wanted to see what this man wanted."

Tussle

He said Gda Horkan, "just grabbed me" and they started grappling. Gda Horkan, he said, tried to get a grip of his left arm and Mr Coyne tried to pull Mr Silver back, causing the accused to fall to the ground. Mr Silver said the struggle continued and he tried to get back up by putting his hands on Gda Horkan's hips and that's when he felt the gun holster.

He said: "That gave me a fright and I thought this was some kind of assassination attempt. Why did he have a gun? I put my hand back to see if the gun was there and his hand was on the gun. We started struggling to try and get the gun and the gun came out of the holster and both our hands were on it."

Mr Silver said his hand was on the handle of the gun and Gda Horkan's hand was around his hand.

He added: "Next thing, I pulled the trigger and nothing happened so I pulled it again and it fired, a loud pop noise. I pulled my hand off it and Colm fired it twice."

Mr Silver said: "Colm's hand started to lose power, falling away from the gun. I took the gun on my own then, Colm started to fall backwards. I hit him on the head with the butt of the gun on the side of his head."

He said it happened so fast he had no time to think, adrenaline was flowing and, he said, he was trying to protect himself. "I didn't know who he was, I thought it might be a drug dealer that James knew. I thought it might be something to do with James. I thought it was unreal that someone had tried to attack me with a gun."

Cross-examination

Under cross-examination Mr Silver told Mr Delaney that as Gda Horkan fell to the ground he shot him 11 times.

Each shot, he said, was from within three to four metres. Having watched CCTV that Mr Delaney said showed Mr Silver walking away before turning around and shooting again, Mr Silver said that the gun was empty at that stage.

"Why point an empty gun?" Mr Delaney asked. Mr Silver said: "I wasn't aware it was empty. I wasn't well." He said he doesn't know if he intended to shoot him again, but added that he checked the gun and it was empty.

He told Mr Delaney that on the day of the shooting he didn't want any hassle with gardaí.

He accepted that he had earlier created a disturbance by driving a motorcycle at speed with no helmet or light around a housing estate late at night and shouting, "I dare the armed squad to come down here."

He said he was "stupid" but wasn't trying to provoke the gardaí. When Mr Delaney said that he seemed to have wanted the gardai to come for a confrontation, Mr Silver replied: "These were fleeting thoughts. Ten seconds later I wouldn't want anything to do with the guards."

Mr Delaney asked if he was thinking of shooting a garda when he dared the armed squad to come down. The accused replied: "No, sure I have no interest in shooting guards." Counsel suggested that it was "clear you were spoiling for a row with gardai". Mr Silver responded: "No, It's just I was unwell. There is no other reason for it."

He denied that he had been "building a defence" from the start by pretending that he didn't know Gda Horkan was a garda and he denied that the reason Gda Horkan tried to arrest him was that he spat at him. He said he didn't know why the garda wanted to arrest him, adding that there was no reason to arrest him.

Mr Silver has finished his evidence and the trial continues on Thursday in front of Mr Justice Paul McDermott and a jury of seven men and five women.

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