A garda was murdered during a "slick, highly organised" operation carried out for a "base criminal motive", a barrister has told the Central Criminal Court.
Opening the trial for the prosecution in the trial of Aaron Brady, Brendan Grehan SC told the jury of eight men and seven women that a gang of four raiders went "directly, without hesitation" for a garda car that was providing an escort for credit union employees carrying tens of thousands of euro to a safety deposit box. Counsel said one of the raiders, who was carrying a shotgun, "blasted" Det Garda Adrian Donohoe in the face while another pointed a handgun at a second garda and threatened to shoot.
Telling the jury that the prosecution would attempt to "weave strands of circumstantial evidence", he said the accused man Aaron Brady was under "money pressure" at the time and indicated his money problems would be solved after the weekend on which the robbery took place. Counsel further said that Mr Brady repeatedly lied about his whereabouts on the night in question and the jury will hear about conversations the accused man had with various people when he believed he had moved "beyond the long arm of the law" having moved to New York. The prosecution will also rely on CCTV and mobile phone evidence.
Aaron Brady (28) from New Road, Crossmaglen, Co Armagh has pleaded not (NOT) guilty to the capital murder of Det Gda Adrian Donohoe who was then a member of An Garda Siochana on active duty on January 25, 2013 at Lordship Credit Union, Bellurgan, Co Louth. Mr Brady has also pleaded not (NOT) guilty to a charge of robbing approximately e7,000 in cash and assorted cheques on the same date and at the same location.
Giving what he called a "thumbnail sketch" of the prosecution's case, Mr Grehan said Det Garda Donohoe was shot dead on a cold and wet Friday night in January 2013. As was their Friday night routine, gardai from Dundalk were tasked with escorting a credit union employee to four credit unions in the Louth area to collect cash and bring it to a safe deposit box in Dundalk. The credit unions were in Omeath, Carlingford, Cooley and Lordship.
The escort was provided, counsel said, because: "They were seen, for good reason, to be a soft target for criminals." Counsel told the jury that on August 5, 2011 a credit union employee at Lordship was robbed at gunpoint of e22,500 in cash in a robbery that lasted 17 seconds. He said the method used in that robbery was similar to what happened in this case.
Initially the escort was provided by Garda Tony Golden who, Mr Grehan said, was shot dead in a later, unrelated incident. Detective Garda Donohoe and Detective Garda Joe Ryan, who were both armed, took over the escort at Cooley and headed towards Lordship, arriving at about 9.25pm. The unmarked garda car followed the credit union employee Mary Hanlon into the car park at Lordship and Pat Bellew, who worked at Lordship credit union, came out with a bag containing e7,000. Mr Bellew got into his gold-coloured Mazda and prepared to join the convoy between Ms Hanlon and the unmarked garda car. However, Mr Grehan said, as they tried to exit the carpark gate a car blocked the exit and four "athletic young men in balaclavas hopped over the wall." Two of the men had guns, one a shotgun, the other a handgun. Mr Grehan continued: "They went directly, without hesitation, for the garda car." Det Gda Donohoe, who was in the passenger seat, got out of the escort car to see what was blocking the exit and was "blasted in the face with the shotgun," Mr Grehan said.
He added: "He died instantly. He never had the opportunity to draw his weapon."
Det Gda Ryan was in the driver's seat with "two guns pointed at his face" and was threatened with words to the effect: "We will fucking kill you. Don't move. I will shoot," counsel said.
The third man threatened Ms Hanlon and grabbed her handbag while the fourth person grabbed the bag containing e7,000 off Pat Bellew. They did not get a bag containing e17,000 that was in Mary Hanlon's car. They then jumped into a stolen Volkswagen Passat driven by a fifth person and left the scene at high speed towards Dundalk or the border. All this happened, Mr Grehan said, in less than 60 seconds. Although Det Gda Ryan was unable to get out of his seat until the raiders were already in their car, Mr Grehan said he did notice that their accents were local or from the border area. He also noticed that one of them had a walkie talkie, suggesting the raiders were not using mobile phones. The car used by the raiders was later found burnt out in South Armagh.
This was, Mr Grehan said, a "very slick operation, highly organised with a number of people working as a team." It was carried out for a "base motive", he said, adding: "This was done for money, nothing else. There is no suggestion of any connection to any kind of cause." He said the credit union was seen as an easy target but the operation took a lot of planning. The raiders knew the schedule and the timing of the convoy "down to the minute", counsel said. Weapons had to be procured, the getaway car stolen, and the escape route planned. He also pointed to the "deliberate targeting of the gardai with lethal force."
It was, he said, a "well planned and executed crime which only could be achieved with intimate knowledge of the local country."
Turning to the prosecution case against Mr Brady, he said the accused man appears to have spent much of that day with two friends, who cannot be named for legal reasons. One of these friends, Mr Grehan said, appeared to be spending a lot of time driving Mr Brady around in a distinctive car. This car, Mr Grehan said, drove by the credit union at Lordship earlier on the day in question at about 2pm. As the car passed, the passenger side window was down but was back up immediately after it passed the credit union. The car then drove to a garage before returning the way it had come.
The walkie talkies are significant, Mr Grehan said, because it is well known that your movements can be tracked on your mobile phone. He added: "Anybody going to do something underhand will be no doubt aware of that fact." On the day in question, Mr Brady's and the other two men's phones were active during the day but a "curious thing happens," counsel said. In the evening the three men's phones "went off the radar immediately before and after the robbery from 8pm to about 10.30pm."
He added: "There's a telecommunications blackout before and after this robbery until they resume their usual patterns."
Mr Grehan further stated that Aaron Brady was under "money pressure" at the time and "not only that but he was indicating the money pressures would be solved after the weekend."
Mr Grehan said the accused also lied to gardai about his whereabouts when questioned the day after the robbery. He "lied again about his whereabouts," Mr Grehan said, before just before the trial began he provided a new alibi which Mr Grehan said is also a lie.
Following the robbery, as the garda investigation "ramped up", Mr Brady went to New York where he settled, "believing he was beyond the long arm of the law." Mr Grehan told the jury they will hear about conversations he had with people while he was there.
He concluded: "You will be satisfied to find him guilty of the murder of Adrian Donohoe and the robbery."
The trial continues in front of the jury and Mr Justice Michael White.