17 Aug 2022

Gunman in drag must wait to hear whether conviction is overturned

Dublin Gunman in drag must wait to hear whether conviction is overturned

A gunman, who was dressed in drag when he fired 18 bullets from a sub-machine gun into his innocent victim at a Dublin pigeon club, must wait to hear whether the Court of Appeal will overturn his murder conviction.

Christopher McDonald’s lawyers have argued to the three-judge court that gardaí took swabs for DNA sampling before their client had received sufficient legal advice.

They also argued that the jury should not have heard that McDonald told gardai, "go fuck yourself," when he was arrested.

The court reserved judgement.

McDonald (36) from the East Wall area of Dublin was found guilty of murder by unanimous jury verdict at the Central Criminal Court in 2017. He had pleaded not guilty to murdering Keith Walker (36) at the Blanchardstown Pigeon Racing Club on Shelerin Road, Clonsilla, Dublin on June 12, 2015.

The trial heard that Mr Walker, who had no involvement in criminality, was shot dead as he stood chatting with fellow pigeon enthusiasts. He had arrived at the club in a car belonging to his friend Jason 'Jay' O'Connor.

The jury was shown CCTV footage of a person pulling a gun from a handbag and opening fire on Mr Walker. The prosecution's case was that it was McDonald dressed in drag.

A post mortem revealed that the victim was hit 18 times and died from bullet wounds to his head and body.

Gardaí later found the gun used inside a handbag in a laneway about a kilometre from the club. Alongside the 9mm calibre Makarov sub-machine gun were a black wig and transparent latex glove. McDonald's DNA was on the wig and glove, both of which also contained traces of firearms residue.

The guilty verdict was met by shouts and tears, with one man shouting: ‘Scumbag junkie bastard. I hope you rot,’ before Justice Patrick McCarthy sentenced McDonald to life imprisonment.

McDonald's barrister Michael Bowman SC this Monday addressed the Court of Appeal for the second time in relation to the case. Mr Bowman told the court that after his client was arrested he had a two-minute consultation with his solicitor over the phone before gardaí took samples from him that would later prove vital in linking McDonald to the gun and wig.

Mr Bowman said that at the time of the brief phone call McDonald's solicitor did not know that gardaí were immediately going to take samples. Mr Bowman said his client therefore did not have an opportunity to receive proper legal advice on the taking of samples.

Counsel for the DPP Paul O'Carroll SC said McDonald had received legal advice and the fact it was a two-minute call was not down to gardaí. Mr Justice Brian Murray pointed out that had McDonald refused permission for gardaí to take swabs, gardaí would have been able to fall back on legal provisions that allow them to take samples without permission.

At a previous hearing Mr Bowman argued several grounds including that the trial judge had erred in refusing to discharge the jury when Jason O'Connor, a friend of the deceased, lunged and allegedly threatened his client while Mr O’Connor was on his way to the witness box to give evidence in front of the jury.

Counsel argued that this clearly showed Mr O’Connor had formed the view that McDonald was responsible for the killing. He said the prejudice caused to his client by this was compounded by the jury hearing that McDonald’s reply to the arresting sergeant was ‘go f**k yourself’. The sergeant was not permitted to give evidence of this reply, but prosecution counsel had already referred to it in his opening speech, he noted.

“That’s something that stands out in the minds of a jury,” suggested Mr Bowman. “His immediate reaction was not to protest his innocence…. It communicates a complete disregard for the situation he finds himself in, a disregard for the rule of law.”

Counsel suggested that the jury’s first introduction to his client’s disposition would have begun to erode his presumption of innocence.

“What would someone expect from a hitman, a professional killer, but the response made?” he suggested.

Justice John Edwards pointed out that many people, for all sorts of reasons, don’t like the gardaí.

“The fact that someone says, ‘go f**k yourself’, all it means is that there was no love lost between him and the guards,” he said.

“Are you really suggesting that the jury would have been so undiscerning that they wouldn‘t have appreciated that?”

Justice Edwards agreed that, perhaps, the prosecution counsel ought not to have said it, but suggested that it didn’t justify the discharge of a jury.

“He was effectively detained at gunpoint,” replied Mr Bowman, adding that this had happened in the early hours of the morning.

“Not surprise, shock, silence,” he said of his client’s reaction.

“It indicated a hardness or firmness that one wouldn’t be surprised to associate with a professional capable of the actions alleged,” he said of the words used.

The barrister suggested that a negative first impression had been created. “The defendant was swimming against the tide from that point,” he said.

Court President Mr Justice George Birmingham (presiding), along with Justice Edwards and Justice Brian Murray, reserved judgement.

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