Two Dublin men have been found guilty at the Special Criminal Court of the "callous, brutal and premeditated murder" of dissident republican Peter Butterly four years ago.
Mr Butterly (35) was shot dead on March 6th, 2013 outside The Huntsman Inn, Gormanston, Co Meath in what the court described this week as an "ambush".
Four men were originally charged with the shooting. One of the men, David Cullen, subsequently turned State witness, and his murder charge was dropped. The fourth man, Dean Evans (24) of Grange Park Rise, Raheny, Dublin failed to turn up for the trial, and was not located by gardai.
The non-jury court proceeded with the trial of his two co-accused in Mr Evans' absence. Edward McGrath (35), of Land Dale Lawns, Springfield, Tallaght and Sharif Kelly (47), of Pinewood Green Road, Balbriggan had both denied the murder. McGrath was also found guilty of firearms offences dating from the same occasion. It was the second trial of McGrath and Kelly.
The first trial collapsed in January 2015 after 55 days. Delivering judgement, presiding judge Mr Justice Tony Hunt described the murder as "callous, brutal and premeditated," with both men "performing their assigned roles".
During the 31-day trial the court heard evidence that the car used in the shooting, a stolen silver Toyota Corolla, was being watched by members of the National Surveillance Unit. Gardai observed the Corolla drive past the Huntsman Inn before making a U-turn and returning to the pub, entering the carpark.
The driver, McGrath, was wearing a black wig. Deans Evans was "crouched" in the back seat, behind McGrath. The window was rolled down. Witnesses then reported hearing gunshots.
One woman, who lived opposite the pub, saw a man holding a small black handgun. A student waiting at a nearby bus-stop saw two people sprinting away from a car. One was chasing the other.
The second man raised an arm and shot the first man. The court was satisfied, Mr Justice Hunt said, that Mr Butterly was "shot in the carpark by means of a gun fired by Dean Evans".
Mr Evans, he added, was driven to and from the scene by McGrath. "It was an ambush by people who expected Mr Butterly would be present in the carpark," he said, adding that the shooting had required a "considerable degree of forethought".
The Corolla left the carpark at speed and drove up Flemington Road. Gardai pursued the car. It had stopped on the side of the road, in a laneway between two houses. A garda who had been pursuing the car performed what he told the court was a "tactical stop", ramming the back of the Corolla. McGrath and Mr Evans were ordered out of the car.
Mr Evans was holding two cigarette lighters. The car was searched and gardai found that a box of firelighters had been broken up and spread throughout it.
They also found a petrol can, gloves, a wig and glasses. Another car then came on the scene. It was a green Opel Zafira, driven by Sharif Kelly. Gardai stopped the car and Kelly was arrested.
A plastic bag containing a change of clothes was found in the Zafira's boot. There was also a duvet draped over the back seat. Further down the road, outside Gormanston College, gardai had also stopped David Cullen.
He was seen picking up a bag that had been thrown from the Toyota Corolla. There was a black semiautomatic pistol in the bag.
Later, various exhibits seized by gardai from the cars were subjected to forensic analysis. Mr Evans' fingerprint was found on the bag seized from the boot of the Zafira.
His DNA was found on the clothes inside the bag. Firearms residue found on Mr Evan's sweater showed "strong support" for the view that he shot Mr Butterly. Firearms residue was also found on a jacket taken from McGrath.
This suggested that he had been present in the vicinity of the shooting. Also, DNA matching McGrath's profile was found on a balaclava and black wig seized from the Corolla. Interviews conducted by gardai with Kelly also formed part of the prosecution's case.
The court heard that detectives asked Kelly why he had been on Flemington Road on the afternoon of the shooting.
Kelly's explanation was that he had been feeding his daughter's pony, which was being kept in a stable on Tobersool Lane, off Flemington Road.
He also said that while driving away from the stables his car had "conked out". The court heard, however, that tests later carried out on the car detected "no faults".
Mr Justice Hunt said the court rejected Kelly's account as "inherently improbable and actually untruthful".
An obvious conclusion from the evidence was that Kelly was "equipped and located to provide necessary assistance" to McGrath and Mr Evans.
The court was satisfied that the men had planned to burn the Corolla after the shooting. The judge said that a "ready source of transport would have been needed to transport the two men from the burning Corolla".
The court found that Kelly was to be the driver of the getaway car.
Mr Justice Hunt said that in convicting the two men the court did not have to rely on the evidence of protected witness David Cullen.
During the trial, Cullen gave evidence for four and a half days, during which there was a heightened security presence at the Criminal Courts of Justice.
In June 2014, in Midlands prison, the witness gave a statement to gardai implicating his former co-accused in the murder. The following month, he pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm on the day of the shooting.
His plea was accepted by the DPP and a nolle prosequi – a decision not to proceed - was entered on a count of murder.
He was sentenced to seven years in prison, with three and a half years suspended. Cullen's testimony was the focus of three days of legal submissions, during which the defence barristers argued that his evidence was tainted and should have been excluded from the trial.
In its judgement, the court found that it could not regard Cullen's evidence as acceptable unless there was significant independent corroboration.
It would have been "dangerous" to convict the men on the evidence of this witness, Mr Justice Hunt said, without independent corroboration. During the trial, Cullen testified that McGrath and Kelly, and a man with the initials KB, were in his apartment in Balbriggan on the night before the shooting. "By listening to them," Cullen said,
"I figured out somebody was going to get shot on Wednesday or the following day." Cullen said that KB told McGrath to "make sure he gets blocked in and can't get out, make sure it gets emptied into him."
"At this point I knew somebody was going to be shot," Cullen said. A black bag was taken to his apartment, in which Cullen saw wigs, balaclavas and a Beretta handgun.
He told the court that his involvement was to pick up the gun and dispose of it at the gates of Gormanston College. On Wednesday, at some time between 11am and 12pm,
McGrath and Mr Evans called to Cullen's apartment and at 1:55pm Kelly took Cullen to Gormanston College.
After dropping Cullen at the gate, Kelly went off his own way. Cullen then waited at the gate.
At five past two, a Toyota Corolla drove by and a gun was thrown out the window. The gun landed in a grass verge. Cullen was picking it up when gardai arrived and he was arrested. Mr Justice Hunt, sitting with Judge John O'Hagan and Judge Ann Ryan, remanded McGrath and Kelly in custody until April 7th, when they will be sentenced.