Limerick man loses Supreme Court appeal over murder conviction

David Hurley

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David Hurley

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david.hurley@limerickleader.ie

Limerick man loses Supreme Court appeal over murder conviction

Jonathan Fitzgerald is serving a life sentence

A LIMERICK man who challenged his conviction for the murder of a father-of-six more than a decade ago has lost his Supreme Court appeal.

Jonathan Fitzgerald, aged 28, of South Claughaun Road, Garryowen was jailed for life in February 2011 after he was convicted of murdering Noel Crawford in Southill in December 2006.

Mr Crawford, 40, died after he was shot as he celebrated his birthday at his parent's home in O'Malley Park in the early hours of December 18, 2006.

The jury in the Central Criminal Court trial was told the victim was shot in what was a case of mistaken identity and that it was his brother, Paul Crawford, who was the intended target. Moments before the shooting happened Paul Crawford had been with his brother but had gone inside the house to answer his phone.

In a judgment which was handed down on Thursday, a five-judge Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal by Jonathan Fitzgerald, which centred on whether the trial judge should have warned the jury to treat a female witness as an accomplice.

Fitzgerald lost an appeal against his conviction before the Court of Appeal in July 2016 but the Supreme Court agreed to hear a further appeal concerning the treatment of the evidence of the woman during the murder trial.

The woman testified that Jonathan Fitzgerald and another man had arrived at her house in O'Malley Park around midnight on 17 December 2006.

The woman said she overheard a conversation about a possible attack on Paul Crawford and a reference to making a petrol bomb. She said the men left the house about 20 minutes later.

She described how after they left she saw them putting on bulletproof vests while in the back garden of a neighbouring house.

Some little time later, she and her partner heard two shots.

Then, shortly after that, there was banging on the door as Fitzgerald and the other man returned to her home. The second man said: “I got him, I got him".

The woman described how she saw a shotgun on the kitchen table and how both men washed themselves while Fitzgerald burned the clothes he was wearing.

In its judgment, the Supreme Court said it was clear the evidence of the woman was a “central building block” of the prosecution case.

“While in this case the actual commission of the crime was not in contention, in the sense that once the pathology evidence had been given, no one doubted or thought to contest that a man had been murdered, there were serious questions as to whether anyone might regard the evidence of (named woman) as coming from an accomplice to the crime. The answer to those questions is not a facile one that she was in any way an accomplice,” stated the judgment.

While the woman’s partner gave a witness statement to gardaí following the murder,  he claimed during the trial that he was a drug addict and could not remember anything from the night.

Delivering the Supreme Court’s ruling, Mr Justice Peter Charleton said the trial judge rightly left to the jury the issue of fact as to whether the man might be an accomplice of the accused and had warned them to be very wary of his evidence.

In the absence of any defence submission, the trial judge did not put to the jury any issue whether the woman might be an accomplice or attach any warning to that issue.

Mr Justice Charleton said the court was rejecting arguments by lawyers for Fitzgerald that such a warning should have been given.

“In this case, the issue was not raised. Instead, the run of the trial indicates that, as regards (named woman), there were other matters which it was decided by the accused might more profitably be raised against her,” he stated indicating the appeal was being dismissed.