18 May 2022

Jury deliver verdicts in Offaly burglary and assault trial

Tullamore Circuit courtroom

Clara man was awaiting verdicts at Tullamore Circuit Court

THE man accused of aggravated burglary and two assaults in Clara has been found guilty of all charges.

A jury at Tullamore Circuit Court returned their verdicts this evening after more than three hours of deliberations.

Dylan Coughlan (22), Armstrong Grove, Clara, had denied aggravated burglary, assaulting John Sheerin, causing him harm, and threatening to kill or cause serious injury to John Sheerin, at 3 Kinclare, Clara on September 1, 2019.

Mr Coughlan had also pleaded not guilty to assaulting Derek Tuite at 5 Railway View, Clara, and to producing a bat or bar, on the same date.

The jury returned unanimous guilty verdicts on all three offences committed at the home of Mr Sheerin (70), and a similar verdict was returned on the charge of producing a bar or bat at the residence of Mr Tuite.

Judge Keenan Johnson was initially told that all 12 jurors had not agreed a verdict on the charge alleging Mr Coughlan assaulted Mr Tuite.

Judge Johnson told them a majority verdict would be accepted and they returned a short time later and found Mr Coughlan guilty, with just two jurors dissenting from the majority view.

During three days of evidence, the jury heard that Mr Coughlan and another man, Wayne Dolan, had entered the home of Mr Sheerin at about 5am through a rear window, beat him with shovels and threatened him with a knife.

Mr Sheerin said €700 was then taken from his wallet when the men forced him to go to his kitchen with a knife at his back.

Mr Sheerin said he was awoken at about 5am by two men who came into his bedroom and demanded money.

He said they made him lie on his stomach and stood on each side of the bed beating him with shovels.

Mr Sheerin, who lived alone at Kinclare, Clara, detailed that he was hit about 10 times and one fellow put a knife to his throat and said he wanted money.

The elderly man went down to the kitchen and was told they would stick the knife in him if he was not given money.

His wallet with the money was taken, and it also contained his travel pass and medical card.

Mr Sheerin said he could hear the men's voices and knew what they were saying but could not see their faces because they were masked with either balaclavas or women's tights.

The jury of six women and six men also heard Mr Sheerin say a shovel was missing from his shed and that he had been woken by his Jack Russell pet who was barking after one of the men put the dog up on a window sill.

Mr Sheerin also told the trial that his dog had been given to him by a man he named as Wayne Dolan who had come to his house about a fortnight before.

He said Mr Dolan knew he had been looking for a dog but he did not know who told him that. The dog was company for him and he previously had a collie who lived to the age of 16.

Mr Dolan had previously pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary at Mr Sheerin's home and is in custody awaiting sentence.

The second victim, Derek Tuite, said in evidence he had been drinking in his house at Railway View with Mr Coughlan and Mr Dolan, and he asked them to leave because he wanted to go to bed.

When eventually they left he said they asked him to leave the door unlocked because they'd be back in a while.

Mr Tuite said he ignored them, locked the door and went to bed and some hours later on September 1 he woke up and the two men had surrounded him and were shouting at him, asking why he locked the door.

He said Wayne Dolan jumped on him, put a knife to his neck and punched him, and Dylan Coughlan, who had a pole or a bar in his hand, kicked him on the head. He recalled saying to them: “Please stop, please stop, I done nothing wrong.”

He said he was beaten for a while and there was blood all over his bed sheets. He also remembered them telling him they had beaten someone up and taken money from him.

According to garda evidence, a camera at 2 Railway View showed Mr Coughlan and Mr Dolan walking from the direction of 5 Railway View, Mr Tuite's residence, at 3.30am. They were going towards the entrance of the estate.

The same camera also recorded two persons running towards 5 Railway View at 5.43am and shortly before that, at 5.34am, a camera at the swimming pool captured two people walking from the direction of Ballycumber in the direction of Railway View.

The trial has already heard that Kinclare, where Mr Sheerin lived, was off the Ballycumber road in Clara near the library.

Other cameras recorded Mr Coughlan and Mr Dolan outside Nigel's public house at 12.23am, and walking nearby at various times up to 2.06am.

Later in the morning, at 9.43am, a man on a bicycle identified by gardai as Wayne Dolan was seen cycling from 5 Railway View and arriving at the Londis shop at 10.02am before going back to Railway View. He is then seen walking to the same shop about an hour later.

Meanwhile, Mr Coughlan was recorded getting out of a Volkswagen Passat at Londis at 11.24am and going inside to buy something.

The trial had previously heard evidence that he had got a lift to the shop and that Alex Guilfoyle, the shop assistant working in Londis remembered serving him, speaking to him and seeing several hundred euros in 50 euro notes.

The jury further heard that following a call to the guards about the burglary on Mr Sheerin's house, gardai went to Clara railway station where they found Mr Coughlan, Mr Dolan and Mr Tuite on the platform.

Searches were conducted and €345 was found on Mr Coughlan and €100 on Mr Dolan. Mr Tuite had no money.

Mr Coughlan told gardai he had spent the previous night at his grandparents' house but when Vera Coughlan, his grandmother, was called to give evidence she said her grandson was in her house for about 15 minutes on the evening in question, did not stay the night and wasn't there when she left for work at 7.15am on Sunday, September 1.

Another witness, Donna Melia, aunt of the accused, told the trial that she lived at the same address as Vera Coughlan and Dylan Coughlan and corroborated the accused's grandmother's evidence.

Mr Coughlan was arrested a couple of days later in Eyre Square, Galway by Detective Garda Andrew Dolan and the garda evidence was that he was intoxicated and upset when he was being conveyed to Tullamore.

Replying to Colm Smyth, SC, defending Mr Coughlan (instructed by Patrick Martin, solicitor), Garda Harney agreed that there was no CCTV footage from Kinclare.

Another guard involved in the investigation, Detective Garda Adrian Hanley, said that footage from the cameras at the library had not recorded anything because they faced the road, not the path, and worked using motion detectors.

A report from Dr Sibeal Waldron, Forensic Science Ireland, revealed that bloodstains on a blanket from Derek Tuite's house matched Mr Tuite's DNA and there was also a match between the same man and a bottle of Captain Morgan's found at his residence.

Dr Waldron also examined a glove recovered from a fence at the rear of John Sheerin's house but it was not linked with those being investigated.

The trial also heard evidence from two women living in the house next door to Mr Tuite, Leanne O'Neill and Leah Aitken.

They both said they heard banging on the morning of September 1 at about 2am and saw Dylan Coughlan and another person in Mr Tuite's back garden pulling at a window.

The jury further heard that gardai from the scenes of crime division found marks left by a tool which would have been used to open the top part of a window at the back of Mr Tuite's house.

Fingerprint marks found underneath the door handle at Mr Sheerin's house were not connected with either Mr Coughlan or Mr Dolan but entry was said to have been gained through a rear window.

Clothing was seized from Mr Tuite's house, as was a Stanley knife and those items were produced to the jury.

Kevin White, BL, prosecuting (instructed by Sandra Mahon, Offaly state solicitor), also presented evidence that both Mr Coughlan and Mr Dolan were wearing different clothes when they were recorded on the morning of September 1, some time after the offences were believed to have been committed.

In his closing address, Mr White said that when taken together, the evidence of Mr Tuite and the other circumstantial evidence could allow them to reach a guilty verdict.

Mr Smyth told the jury that the State's case was weak because Mr Tuite's evidence was unreliable, principally because he had originally been a suspect himself, and because Mr Coughlan was seen at Mr Tuite's house some two-and-a-half hours before the raid on Mr Sheerin's home.

The court heard that while Mr Tuite had previous convictions, Mr Coughlan did too.

During the trial Judge Johnson ruled that evidence from Mr Coughlan's mobile phone was inadmissible, including his receipt of a text message saying “Who'd you rob” and Google searches on the phone for news about a burglary in Clara, some of which mentioned the Offaly Express.

Mr Coughlan has been in custody since 2020 and remains in custody in advance of sentencing.

The sentencing of Mr Dolan, who was expected to receive in-patient addiction treatment following his guilty plea earlier this year, will be mentioned at the Circuit Court on July 19.

Judge Johnson adjourned Mr Coughlan's sentencing for mention on the same date.

Victim impact reports were ordered for Mr Tuite and Mr Sheerin.

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