THE EVIDENCE that the killing of Kenneth O’Brien was a planned, pre-meditated execution “does not add up,” murder accused Paul Wells’ defence has said.
Mr O’Brien was a “deeply flawed character”, had shown a “disregard for life” and there were “suspicious” factors leading up to his death, defence barrister Michael O’Higgins said in his closing speech at the trial
Mr O’Higgins asked the jury to consider these factors in considering Mr Wells’ claim that Mr O’Brien wanted to have his partner killed and he was shot in a struggle after the accused refused to do it.
Mr Wells (50), of Barnamore Park, Finglas, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr O’Brien (33) at that address between January 15 and 16, 2016.
He has admitted that he shot him dead but said it happened when they struggled during a row after Mr O’Brien turned up at his home with a gun.
The accused claimed Mr O’Brien had wanted to have his partner Eimear Dunne murdered and Mr Wells refused to kill her.
Mr Wells dismembered his body in the yard with a chainsaw, put the torso into a suitcase and the other body parts in shopping bags, which he threw into the grand canal.
In his closing speech, Mr O’Higgins said Mr O’Brien’s life and times were relevant to the issues the jury has to decide.
Mr Wells’ claim that Mr O’Brien had wanted his partner murdered was a “staggering allegation to make” and the jury had to ask themselves if Mr O’Brien, on the evidence, was someone who might kill someone or might have disregard for human life.
He pointed to the description of Mr O’Brien making pipe bombs, in the statement of his friend, Patrick Bogey, and Mr Bogey’s question: “If you are hiding this from me, what else are you doing?”
On the issue of the value of human life, this was evidence that should cause the jury “deep concern,” Mr O’Higgins said.
It was a fair question to ask if that could be extended to someone close to you – the mother of your child, he said.
He agreed with the prosecution that the jury should not get hung up on affairs or other “human failings” unless they had a bearing on a verdict in the case.
There were a lot of “very odd details” in the case and Mr O’Higgins spoke about a suggestion that Mr O’Brien had urged a woman he had a relationship with to “contrive a situation where she provoked Eimear to assault her.”
The purpose was to lay a criminal complaint against Ms Dunne whereupon that would be used as a lever to get her out of the house.
Mr O’Higgins said this had seemed like an extreme action and “too fantastic to be true” when he read it but Ms Dunne had confirmed in evidence that it actually happened.
There were other details in the case that seemed less than credible at first glance but were confirmed, he said.
Mr O’Brien was “someone who shows disregard for life” and that he would go “to the extreme to gain possession of the family home.”
Mr O’Higgins said he was highlighting this for the jury to consider in weighing up Mr Wells’ claim that he was asked to kill Ms Dunne.
Mr O’Brien was not monogamous and Mr O’Higgins named “just three” women the jury had heard about. He was earning around €70,000 per year and sending about €7,000 home to Ms Dunne. He sent nearly €53,000 to the accused’s personal account and it was not clear what that was “all about.”
Mr Wells was a republican who had served a prison sentence in Portlaoise jail, a prison for people “convicted of IRA type offences,” Mr O’Higgins continued. He had an interest in guns. He was introduced to Mr O’Brien, they remained friends, and he allowed his bank account to be used by him.
“He is, like Kenneth O’Brien a deeply flawed character,” Mr O’Higgins said of the accused. “There are things that are dislikable about him.”
He pointed to Mr Wells’ sending of texts to Ms Dunne supposedly from Mr O’Brien, and dragging his own family into the aftermath of the incident.
The prosecution had once he understood what he had done, the accused’s interest was in getting away with it and maintained that stance in his early garda interviews.
“Whether or not that makes this some form of pre-meditated murder I would respectfully suggest is quite another thing,” he said.
Mr O’Higgins spoke of a kind of “compartmentalising” that allows someone to lead a double life.
To preserve the compartments, he said “you have to tell an awful lot of lies” and this was “toxic.”
“It was a place where Mr O’Brien seems to have spent an awful lot of his time,” he said.
“This isn’t about heroes and villains that are in comic books, what you have here is flawed characters, but flawed characters that are capable of dreaming up and doing very dark things,” Mr O’Higgins said.
“You can’t script this with goodies on one page and baddies on the other, it’s just not that simple.”
There were a lot of contradictions in the evidence, he said; on some accounts, Mr O’Brien was happy to come home from Australia, others told a different story.
Turning to the offence, he said one of the issues the jury would have to decide was whether what happened was planned and premeditated or “something spontaneous, something that wasn’t anticipated,” a meeting that deteriorated into a row.
He referred to Mr Wells’ statement about his actions after the shooting and asked the jury: “does that sound like someone who has carried out a planned execution?”
The prosecution had suggested that in his interviews, “this is simply a psychopath turning on the waterworks.”
“Mr Wells should have rung the police, Mr Wells when he sat down in his first interview should have put all his cards face up, he didn’t do that… but it’s probably fair to say that if he was that sort of person he wouldn’t be involved in this mess to begin with,” Mr O’Higgins said.
In relation to making “two trips to the canal” to dispose of the remains, he asked “what sort of plan would that be?”
On the prosecution’s assertion that the clean-up was “almost professional,” he said there were “numerous bloodstained items found.”
“I suggest that the evidence in support of an argument that this was a planned event does not add up,” he said. “I suggest to you that there is a huge deficit in that assertion.”
The prosecution had not sought to advance any reason why the killing occurred and the jury had not heard about it because “the evidence isn’t there to support it – you are left with a blank.”
Mr O’Higgins asked the jury to take account of a number of factors leading up to the killing. The CCTV in Mr O’Brien’s house last operated for a minute on January 14, after that the access code changed and Ms Dunne accepted Mr O’Brien was the only person who could have changed it.
Ms Dunne’s birthday party on January 15 was cancelled because Mr O’Brien had to work, but that was an “out and out lie” by him, Mr O’Higgins said.
He got keys cut on January 14, his passport was missing and he had deleted his boss’s number from Ms Dunne’s mobile phone.
“They are factors which at the very minimum would arouse suspicion,” Mr O’Higgins said.
The jury had been addressed by the prosecution about Mr Wells’ “power of dissembling” but not one of those factors had Mr Wells “fingerprints” on them.
“They are all things that are occurring completely independently of him,” Mr O’Higgins said.
“You might say the whole thing stinks, but it’s a long way to simply roll them all up and that means Kenneth O’Brien was setting up a clear run, believing Mr Wells was going to his house to kill his partner, you might say that is a big stretch, but you might also that it’s an incredible coincidence,” he said.
Mr Wells had said Ms Dunne was to be killed “that very day” and Mr O’Higgins asked “what are the odds” that the surrounding factors would then be consistent.
He is due to conclude his closing speech to tomorrow, after which Mr Justice Paul McDermott is expected to begin his charge to the jury.
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