Gardai asked murder accused Stephen Penrose if he had his friend "dig his own grave" in the woodlands near the Offaly broder where his body was eventually discovered, a jury has heard.
The Central Criminal Court jury has heard that Mr Penrose gave different versions throughout his 19 interviews to detectives about where he had last seen Philip Finnegan. In his final interview, the accused told gardai that he and Mr Finnegan got attacked by a group of men at "a forest", having arranged to collect firearms from them.
Mr Penrose initially said the attack took place on the outskirts of Kilcock Co Kildare, then on the road leading up to a house in Clonuff in Co Kildare, subsequently "it moved down towards a crossroads which intersected with a road towards Clonuff and Broadford" and then the accused suggested in his written statement that it was "somewhere near Edenderry" in Co Offaly.
Mr Penrose was first arrested on August 31, 2016 for withholding information in relation to a serious assault on Mr Finnegan and interviewed on ten occasions at Kilmainham Garda Station. He was released from his detention after the tenth interview took place on September 2, when Mr Finnegan was still considered a missing person.
The accused was rearrested at Leixlip Garda Station on November 16, 2016 after his friend's body was discovered buried in the grave at Rahin Woods, and interviewed nine times. The defendant read a prepared handwritten statement to gardai, which said: "I had nothing to do with Philip's killing. All this had nothing whatsoever to do with me and that's why I tried to distance myself from it".
Mr Penrose (38), of Newtown Court, Malahide Road, Coolock, Dublin 17, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr Finnegan (24) at Rahin Woods, Rahin, Edenderry, Co Kildare on August 10, 2016.
The trial has heard that Mr Finnegan was missing for just over three weeks before a dog walker and his two pets found his remains buried in a shallow grave in the Kildare woods on September 2, 2016.
Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster has testified that the remains of Mr Finnegan were found in the grave on September 2 and attempts had been made to burn his body. In the expert witness's view, Mr Finnegan's death was caused by multiple stab wounds to the body, including two fatal ones to his liver and aorta.
A forensic scientist told the jury that a DNA profile generated from a bloodied glove discovered near the decapitated and "skeletonised" remains of Mr Finnegan matched the DNA of Mr Penrose.
Evidence has been given by a paramedic that Mr Penrose had a stab wound to the inside of his left arm, when he examined him at Kilcock on August 10 at 6.45pm. The accused told gardai in his interviews that he and Mr Finnegan met a number of men in a black car earlier that day. Mr Penrose said a man stabbed him in the arm and he also witnessed Mr Finnegan being stabbed in the back during an attack by the group of men. The accused said he then drove off at speed.
Giving evidence on Wednesday, Inspector Aidan Hannon agreed with Brendan Grehan SC, prosecuting, that gardai put it to the accused in his ninth and final interview on November 17 that he had given "another different account" for the attack by the group of men in his previous interview. "Because I'm afraid for my life. We went there to collect firearms, we're talking about testing firearms," said Mr Penrose.
Detectives told Mr Penrose that he had never said anything about testing firearms until an hour previously. "I'm not trying to cover my bases.................we went down there to meet people that day, we got attacked," said the accused.
"I told you from day one we were meeting fellas, we went down there to test firearms..........I never done nothing, I got nothing, my gloves were obviously left somewhere. Now there is a glove with my blood on it. I was never near that forest that day............I didn't kill Philip. I wasn't around Philip when he died. I seen him getting stabbed once, I seen him running off one way," said Mr Penrose.
Mr Penrose then said he had "kind of lied a few times" to gardai about the location where he met the men as he was "in fear of my life". "That's why I didn't say the exact place it happened, that's all," he added.
When asked about a caravan he had mentioned, Mr Penrose said: "Look it's near a woods where you pointed, I think you pointed to Rahin Woods, it was a house before the woods. I was never in the woods."
The accused told gardai that they could see him as "clear as day" in CCTV footage inside a petrol station on the evening of August 10 with "no blood or muck" on him. "Because you can't point the finger at anyone else, you just pointing the finger at me [sic]," he argued.
Gardai put it to the accused that he firstly said the attack happened in Kilcock, then he moved it when they showed him that this could not be possible and "now today it is at a caravan in a house beside a woods". "How many times have you moved the location of where it happened?" asked the detectives. "I don't know," said Mr Penrose, adding that he was not "making up a new story".
Detectives asked the accused what difference did it make telling gardai that they were attacked in Kilcock and not Rahin Woods.
"You would not have found Philip's body other than I gave you the phones," he said.
However, officers told the accused that two walkers had found Mr Finnegan's body.
"You came fully prepared: you came with your fork, your spade, came with your gloves, you came with your petrol can, you came with your knife. Did you have him dig his own grave?" asked gardai.
Evidence has been given that a garden fork, a shovel and the blade of a knife were found close to the remains. The garden glove with substantial fire damage, a black funnel or fuel can nozzle and the remains of a mobile phone were found nearby buried in a fire pit.
In reply, the accused told the gardai: "I said from the start of the interview there was extensive CCTV footage took by the garda around there, since the start of the investigation, you had my phones. You knew everywhere I was. Yous obviously, where did I pick up a fork and a shovel and a knife, yous are watching me going through McDonalds. Yous had my phone, yous knew exactly where I was from any time. You know. You know [sic]".
The trial continues tomorrow before Mr Justice Alexander Owens and a jury of eight men and four women.
Evidence has also been given that Mr Penrose's phone connected to a cell site close to the area where the victim’s body was found.
Mr Penrose dispensed with what was his second legal team 'once again' last week and is continuing to decline to attend his trial, which is in its fifth week at the Central Criminal Court.
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.