Jury begins deliberations in trial of Limerick man charged over fatal stabbing at pub

Alison O'Riordan

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Alison O'Riordan

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The scene of the stabbing at Fitzgerald’s Bar on Sexton Street North

The scene of the fatal stabbing at Fitzgerald’s Bar

A jury has begun deliberating in the trial of a Limerick man accused of stabbing his friend to death in a bar after a row over payment for cocaine. 

Ms Justice Tara Burns concluded her charge to the jurors this morning in the Central Criminal Court trial of Mark Crawford of Quarry Road, Thomondgate, Limerick, who has pleaded not guilty to murdering Patrick 'Pa' O'Connor (24) at Fitzgerald's Bar, Sexton Street, in Limerick city between July 7 and July 8, 2018.

Addressing the jury today, Ms Justice Burns said intention was a "live issue" in the case as Mr Crawford had said in his interviews to gardai that he did not intend to kill Mr O'Connor and had only intended to stab him.

The judge said the accused man accepted in his interviews that he stabbed Mr O'Connor but said he was acting in self-defence.

She asked the jury to consider the circumstances surrounding the stabbing incident and the threat which the accused man perceived he was under at the time.

She pointed out that the prosecution maintained that there was no threat and the defence said there had been a "squaring off" between the men.

The judge told the jury that they would need to consider whether the accused's response was reasonable and proportionate.

The jury can return three verdicts in relation to the murder charge against Mr Crawford, namely; guilty of murder, not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter or not guilty. 

Ms Justice Burns said if the prosecution had not disproved the issue of self-defence and the jury were of the view that the force used by Mr Crawford was reasonable and proportionate as the accused reasonably believed it to be, then the jury must acquit the accused. 

"If the prosecution had not disproved self-defence and the amount of force was excessive but the accused did not believe it to be excessive at the time, then he is entitled to the partial defence of self-defence and a verdict of not guilty of murder, guilty of manslaughter," she pointed out.

Thirdly, Ms Justice Burns explained that if the prosecution had disproved the defence of self-defence and the jury was not satisfied that the accused intended to kill the deceased, then a verdict of not guilty of murder, guilty of manslaughter should be returned. 

Lastly, the judge said if the jury was satisfied that the accused had murdered Mr O'Connor and the defence of self-defence had been disproved, then the correct verdict was guilty of murder. 

Ms Justice Burns told the 12 jurors that they must be unanimous in their verdict before sending them away to an empty courtroom rather than the smaller jury room to begin deliberations before 1pm. 

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster has 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 trial has heard that the accused man and the deceased had been taking cocaine together on the night and Mr O'Connor was aggrieved that he had paid €100 for cocaine. 

Evidence has been given that the accused admitted stabbing the deceased to gardai but said he had acted in self-defence out of concern he was going to be attacked as he was not from that part of Limerick city.

In his closing speech, prosecution counsel John Fitzgerald SC said there was nothing to justify Mr Crawford's decision to use force against his friend in the bar following the row over payment for cocaine "let alone the level of force used". 

Defence counsel Patrick McGrath SC submitted in his closing address that his client was genuinely distressed and remorseful for what transpired that night and to suggest otherwise was asking one to misinterpret the evidence. Counsel said that no one intended to do harm to anyone that day and murder verdicts were reserved for the most serious and most malicious types of killings.

Mr McGrath went on to tell the jury that if they were in doubt in relation to Mr Crawford's intention on the night or if he mistakenly believed he was under threat and had used too much force then the appropriate verdict to return was manslaughter.