Gardai at the scene of the fatal stabbing in 2018- PICTURE: Brendan Gleeson
A Central Criminal Court jury has found a 43-year-old Limerick man guilty of murdering his friend, whom he stabbed to death in a bar during a row over payment for cocaine.
The 11 men and one woman rejected Mark Crawford's defence that he was acting in self-defence out of fear that he was going to be attacked by the deceased as he was not from that part of Limerick city.
It was the defence case that if they were in doubt in relation to the accused's intention on the night or if he had mistakenly believed he was under threat and had used too much force, then the jury must find him not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter.
Instead the jury accepted the State's case that the defendant had intended to cause at least serious injury to Patrick 'Pa' O'Connor when he stabbed him six times and inflicted two fatal wounds to the heart and jugular vein.
It was the prosecution's contention that there was nothing to justify the accused's decision to use force against his friend in the bar following the row over payment for cocaine "let alone the horrific level of force used".
During the trial, evidence was heard that the accused man and the deceased had been taking cocaine together in the bar on the north-side of Limerick city and Mr O'Connor became aggrieved that he was "after getting burnt for €100 for cocaine".
Crawford, who has an address at Quarry Road, Thomondgate, Limerick had pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr O'Connor (24) at Fitzgerald's Bar, Sexton Street between July 7 and July 8, 2018.
In his closing speech, prosecution counsel John Fitzgerald SC stressed that if one puts a knife into the neck, heart, back and arm of another person then it is a natural and probable consequence that one is going to cause death or serious injury to that individual.
"If you agree with me then you can safely infer that Mr Crawford intended to kill Mr O'Connor and no amount of remorse or tears alters that," he submitted. He disputed that there was "a standoff" between the pair and highlighted that a "horrific level" of force had been used by the accused man on the night.
Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster testified that she conducted a post mortem on Mr O'Connor and found six stab wounds on his body, including those to his heart, jugular vein, neck and arm.
The expert witness said the deceased's cause of death was haemorrhage or bleeding shock due to stab wounds to the thorax and neck.
The 12 jurors found Crawford guilty of murder by unanimous verdict this Thursday evening. They had deliberated for four hours and 35 minutes over two days.
Following today’s verdict, Ms Justice Tara Burns thanked the jury for the attention and diligence they had given to the case. "It is obviously a very difficult time for the country in terms of the Covid problem and I'm very grateful for you coming in each day and giving us your service," she said.
The judge pointed out that this was a very difficult case which raised difficult issues. She exempted them from jury service for 15 years and wished them well in the coming weeks with regards to the pandemic.
Ms Justice Burns will hand down the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment on October 2 and remanded Crawford in custody until that date.
She adjourned sentencing after counsel for the prosecution, John Fitzgerald SC, asked for time for reports to be submitted to the court. Crawford made no reaction when the verdict was delivered.
Ms Justice Burns said she wanted to commend both families for their conduct during the trial.
The O'Connor family obviously had to listen to very difficult evidence and conducted themselves in a very up-standing manner, she said, and she expressed her sympathy to them in relation to the loss they had suffered. "It must have been very difficult to watch CCTV footage [of] the moments before he was murdered," she added.
Barman Cyril O'Connor gave evidence in the trial that he saw Crawford "strike" the deceased in the neck but it was not until after the defendant left the pub that he saw the "horror" done. He also told the jury that blood was "flowing away" from the deceased man as he lay on his side in the Limerick bar.
Crawford told gardai in his interviews that he stabbed his friend in the pub after the deceased man insisted that he was owed €100, or a "oner", for cocaine.
The defendant said a flick-knife was given to him by another person in the Limerick bar over not "being from that side" of the city and said the "worst thing" he did was take the weapon.
Crawford told detectives that he did not know how many times he had stabbed the deceased. "He said I owed him a oner. I said I didn't have it. Before I knew it I had stabbed him," he explained.