A JURY has found a 25 year-old Tipperary man guilty of falsely imprisoning and robbing a Limerick family of €14,000 in 2007.
Declan Whyte, with an address at Ballywire, Kilross, Co Tipperary, had pleaded not guilty to both charges at the home of Seamus Morrissey in Lissard, Galbally, county Limerick on September 19, 2007.
The family of four - including their two young daughters - were locked up in their home by a gang of five masked and armed raiders.
All four were locked in a press, while the parents had their arms tied with cables.
It was an incident that will be “burned into there people’s minds forever”, the court heard.
This Wednesday afternoon the jury of ten men and two women returned the unanimous guilty verdict after more than one hour and a half of deliberations.
He is due to be sentenced on May 24.
Mr Whyte maintained that he was assaulted by gardai and was coerced into confessing these offences when he was arrested one year after the robbery.
He was arrested on foot of a drugs charge, which is not related to this case.
During closing arguments this Wednesday at Limerick Circuit Court, prosecuting barrister Michael Collins said there is “clear, unequivocal evidence” that Mr Whyte was one of the raiders, as he repeatedly admitted to the crime while in custody.
Video footage of the interviews between gardai in Tipperary town station and the accused was seen by the court.
Mr Collins pointed to the defendant’s body language and demeanour both during the court proceedings and in custody, during which he continually placed his head in his hands and stared at the ground.
Mr Whyte also matched the description given by the victims.
But no forensic evidence, such as fingerprint analysis, was presented in the case which could link the accused to the accused to the scene.
“This is not like an episode of CSI,” Mr Collins told the jury.
CCTV footage of the raid at the Morrissey home was observed by gardai, however they did not download this due to a lack of technical expertise.
This footage showed one man leaving the house during the seven-minute raid, and then re-entering the property.
Mr Collins said this had corroborated with admissions by Mr Whyte that he got upset at the house during the robbery and had to leave for a few moments.
He said there is no evidence to support the allegations that Mr Whyte had been assaulted by gardai, who denied these allegations.
The prosecution claimed this was put forth by the accused in a “pathetic attempt to avoid owning up to responsibility.”
In custody records signed by the defendant he did not complain about being hit by gardai or being coerced.
But senior counsel Anthony Sammon, for the defence, warned the jury of the danger of accepting “uncorroborated confessions”, highlighting cases such as the Birmingham Six.
Mr Sammon said accounts of what happened in the raid by the family are inconsistent with the “snippets” of accounts provided by his client.
He said different accounts have had been put forward in varying aspects of the case, such as the number of firearms the gang had in their possession.
“At one stage we heard four guns spoken of, then three guns and one gun,” he said.
Not only is there “no corroboration”, he said, but there is a “multiplicity of inconsistencies.”
When his client denied involvement while in custody he pointed to the response of the gardai: “You admitted to a job you didn’t f***ing do? Are you mad?”
He said it was an “embarrassment” to those involved in the investigation that his client should be charged with the offences because he matched the description of one of the raiders - one year after the offence when he was arrested on a separate matter.
It said it was “nonsense” that Mr Whyte matched the descriptions of the raiders.
Mr Morrissey had believed the tallest member of the gang was 6’1, whereas Mr Whyte is 6’6.
“It would be the difference between Paul O’Connell and David Wallace,” he said.
He described Mr Whyte was a “vulnerable, pretty frail and tearful” individual.
The jury was shown video footage of Mr Whyte being questioned by gardai while in custody in Tipperary town garda station in October 18, 2008.
During interviews with gardai, Mr Whyte admitted his part in the robbery and named the four other individuals who took part.
However, these four people had already been arrested in connection with the incident.
In interviews Mr Whyte named the instigator of the raid, and revealed that they had planned the robbery two weeks before the offence. He said Mr Morrissey was targeted because they knew “he had a load of money”.
He said he drove an English registration vehicle to the scene, and there were four firearms in the boot of the car - two sawn-off shotguns and two long armed rifles. But he said he didn’t know where the firearms were sourced from.
Mr Whyte told gardai that two weeks after the robbery he received €5,000, but was not aware how much the other parties received.
He said he bought jewellery, clothes and “fags” with the funding he received, including a ring for €250 from a store in Arthur’s Quay shopping centre in Limerick.
Gardai put it to him that this was how he spent Mr Morrissey’s money, and the accused replied that it was his own money.
He said he was wearing a plain black Nike tracksuit during the armed robbery and black runners.
The court heard that he later burned the tracksuit in a ditch, but not his runners.
Mr Morrissey, who runs a vending machine and casino company, had just returned home, while his wife was putting their two daughters to bed when the raiders smashed the patio door and broke in.
It was a “normal domestic scene” until a group of five men wearing balaclavas broke into the home and demanded that Mr Morrissey open a safe underneath the floorboards while at gunpoint.
Judge Carroll Moran had outlined to the jury that they must reach a unanimous decision on each charge.