18 May 2022

Offaly assault trial hears of woman's shock at her partner telling gardai he drank all day

Tullamore Circuit courtroom

Evidence given by video link at Tullamore Circuit Court

A WOMAN said she was shocked to hear that her partner, a man accused of using a saw in an assault, had told gardai he was out drinking when she swore he was with her and her child at the same time.

Sophie Judge was giving alibi evidence for the defence in the trial of Craig Connolly, the 30-year-old from Kinnefad, Edenderry who denies assaulting Keith Dunne (36), causing him serious harm at JKL Street in Edenderry on June 18, 2020.

The sixth day of the trial at Tullamore Circuit Court was told Ms Judge and Mr Dunne had a child together but by June 2020 she was in a relationship with Mr Connolly and she said she was raising the little boy with him.

The court also heard that the child is now in the custody of Mr Dunne.

On the final day of evidence, senior counsel for Mr Connolly, John Shortt, said he was calling Ms Judge as a witness.

Initially Ms Judge was expected to appear in court in person but on Wednesday morning it was learned that she had tested positive for Covid-19.

However, arrangements were made for her to give her evidence by video link and once a secure connection was made, she was sworn in remotely.

Ms Judge said on the Thursday Mr Connolly is alleged to have assaulted Mr Dunne with a Japanese pull saw, an attack which resulted in the victim losing half of one of the fingers on his left hand, she was in the accused's mother's house with Mr Connolly and her child.

She said they had a “bit of a lie in” and got up at 10.30 or 11am and watched some films, including “Cat in the Hat”.

At about 3.30 or 4pm Ross Connolly, brother of Craig, came in from work and they all ate the dinner Ms Judge had cooked and after dinner “just chilled” around the house for a while.

Later Craig and Ross went out to get cement because a shed was being built at the back of the house for Craig's mother.

Ms Judge said Craig Connolly had been with her all day until he went out to get the cement with Ross.

The trial had previously heard that the assault on Mr Dunne had taken place at about 3pm.

Cross-examined by Kevin White, BL, prosecuting, Ms Judge said they had not been drinking alcohol that day and they had not been doing much because Craig had a back brace on after suffering an injury.

When Mr White put it to Ms Judge that Craig Connolly had given a statement to the guards saying that he had been drinking all day on June 18, Ms Judge said that was “complete lies” and she did not know why he would say it.

Asked by Mr White if the accused had been helping with the building out the back, Ms Judge said he was not, because of the back brace, but though she did not see him doing so, he could have laid a few blocks when the shed was being built.

Mr White then told Ms Judge that when she had been speaking to Garda Denis Glennon previously, she had said Craig and Ross Connolly left the house to get tools.

Ms Judge replied that she did not know much about building but was nearly sure it was cement they went to get.

She said that when the guards arrived to the house and told them that Keith Dunne had been assaulted, she said she already knew because she had received a text message and she had shown that message to Craig.

When Mr White put it to her that Craig Connolly's palm print had been found on the blade of the saw recovered from the scene of the assault – a weapon which a DNA test showed had Mr Dunne's blood on it - Ms Judge said she could not explain that.

Mr White then put it to the witness that her alibi was “utterly false” and she replied that it was not and said she had stated what she remembered about the day.

Mr White then said that Mr Connolly had not told the gardai he had been with her and Ms Judge said she could not explain that. “I'm really shocked by that,” she said.

Asked by Mr White if Mr Connolly was “fond of a drink”, Ms Judge said at the time he did not really drink because of his previous history with alcohol and even after his accident he was not taking painkillers “in case he fell back into it” and was using CBD oils and natural things instead.

Mr Connolly has pleaded not guilty to assaulting Mr Dunne causing him serious harm, and has also denies assaulting Mr Dunne causing him harm.

He further denies a charge which alleges he possessed an article, a pull saw, in a public place, intending to cause injury, incapacitate or intimidate another person.

A co-accused in the trial, Sean Dillon (42), St Brigid's Road, Edenderry, has denied assaulting Mr Dunne, causing him harm, and has also pleaded not guilty to causing him serious harm.

It is the State's case that Mr Dillon acted in concert with Mr Connolly in that they participated together in the assault by acting in common design.

The jury heard that Mr Dillon was the driver of a van which he owned and which was recorded on CCTV driving around the town before the assault in what Mr White said was a “scouting” exercise.

Mr Dunne was involved in the construction of a footpath on JKL Street at the time and his job on the day was to hold up a barrier which would prevent debris from a rock breaker driven by his boss from going out onto the road.

The trial heard Mr Dunne describe how a masked and hooded man he recognised as Craig Connolly attacked him with what he thought was a machete, first striking his nose after the blade bounced off his hard hat, before it came down on his left hand, resulting in fingers being severed and the eventual amputation of the ring finger below the first knuckle.

The jury also heard that footwear and clothing were seized in various locations during a search at the house at Cokery Lane Craig Connolly was staying in and two high viz jackets were found underneath a turf bin.

One of the high viz jackets had red dotting on it which gardai thought may have been blood but a test showed that was not the case.

Clothing was also seized at Sean Dillon's address and both men were subsequently arrested and questioned.

When interviewed by the gardai, Mr Dillon said he was helping a plasterer most of the day on June 18, 2020 and then a friend of his, Donna Reilly, called to get a lend of his van to move stuff into a shop she was opening.

He told gardai that he did not know Keith Dunne, but “knew of him”, had heard he had a kid with Craig's girlfriend at the time, and knew there was animosity between Mr Dunne and the accused on Facebook.

When Donna Reilly came back with his van, Mr Dillon said he had to drive around the town to see where his mother was because she had gone shopping and he could not get her on the mobile.

He was also going to go into the Credit Union but could not do so because he realised he had left his books at home.

Answering further questions from the guards, he said he had not gone into shops such as Lidl, Aldi, Tesco or Dunnes to look for his mother, nor had he driven into the car parks. He also said he had not seen his mother leaving her house to go shopping.

He identified himself as a person recorded on CCTV around the time of the assault but said he “wasn't really running away” at the time. He also said a person recorded by a camera at Col Perry Street looked like him.

Mr Dillon also told gardai that a man had jumped in the back of his van that afternoon when he was in it with Ms Reilly and that man, who he could not identify, said “Just drive”.

Mr Dillon could not explain why a random man had got into the van.

In his interviews with the guards, Mr Connolly said he was “delighted for him” when he was told that Keith Dunne had been assaulted.

He also said that while he knew Mr Dunne, he had never met him, and he did not know when Ms Judge and the other man had gone out together.

He told the gardai he had never seen the blade before and said he did not know a weapon had been used in the assault because he thought it “was a punch or two”.

Replying to further questioning, he denied being at the scene of the assault and said: “If I was I would have done it right”.

He said he had been drinking on that Thursday, described himself as a “big drinker” and said that was the start of the weekend and he drank until Sunday.

Mr Connolly also told the guards he could not remember that Thursday and did not know which day was which.

When he was shown CCTV footage of a person running he said he could not run because of an accident and he also said he did not know the van recorded in the footage and had never in his life been in the vehicle, a Ford Connect.

Asked again about the assault on Mr Dunne, Mr Connolly said the person responsible “wasn't a very good hit man”.

In another interview Mr Connolly said he did not know Sean Dillon and when he was shown a photograph of him on a mobile phone he recognised him as “Dilser”, a friend of his brother Ross.

Closing arguments from Mr White for the DPP, Mr Shortt for Mr Connolly, and Colman Fitzgerald, SC, for Mr Dillon, were made on Wednesday and Judge Keenan Johnson will deliver his charge to the jury on Thursday morning before they retire to consider their verdicts.

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