A homeless man who stabbed his friend to death on Dublin’s O’Connell Street will be sentenced to life in prison after he was found guilty of murder by unanimous jury verdict at the Central Criminal Court on Thursday.
Damien Singleton (31), of no fixed abode, had pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to the manslaughter of Peter Donnelly (39), who was originally from Co Kilkenny, on O’Connell Street on June 11th, 2019.
The case centred on whether or not Singleton, who was on a cocktail of drugs and alcohol at the time, was capable of forming the intent to kill Mr Donnelly, which is required for a murder conviction.
The jury rejected the defence case that Singleton was so intoxicated at the time that he was incapable of either knowing what he was doing or was incapable of knowing the consequences of his actions.
The trial had been played a threatening audio message found on Mr Donnelly’s phone and it was the State’s case that this, together with how Singleton interacted with the deceased on the night, should be taken into account by the jury.
Mr Lorcan Staines SC, prosecuting, had said the stabbing was “vicious and devastating”, adding that less than one hour earlier Singleton had voice-messaged Mr Donnelly saying “I promise you, I’ll slit your fucking throat. Pray I don’t get you. I’m going to slaughter you. You’re dead.”
“That’s exactly what he did. This is murder, pure and simple,” Mr Staines said in his closing speech to the jury.
On Thursday, the jury of six men and five women returned their unanimous guilty verdict after four hours and 23 minutes of deliberations.
Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy adjourned the case for the mandatory life sentencing to December 3rd, when a victim impact statement will be heard by the court.
It was the second trial of Singleton after the first collapsed last September after one of the jurors believed they overheard gardaí discussing witness statements in the courtroom.
At that hearing, prosecution counsel told the court gardaí “absolutely did not discuss witness statements” in the courtroom but submitted the jury should be discharged due to the impression formed by them that one of their members had overheard a discussion.
The trial heard Mr Donnelly died from stab wounds to his aorta and jugular vein in the early hours of June 11th, 2019, caused by a knife that Singleton carried in his tracksuit bottoms.
The court also heard the two men were in each other’s company for three nights prior to the killing.
At noon on June 10th, Mr Staines said Mr Donnelly got a bus to Kilkenny to collect his dole, which was dispensed at a social welfare office there. At 4pm, Mr Donnelly got a bus back to Dublin and got off near O’Connell Street.
The prosecution barrister told the court Mr Donnelly was “hanging around” the O’Connell Street area from 6pm on June 10th and was in the company of a female until around midnight.
In his closing speech to the jury on Tuesday, Mr Staines said there was no issue that Singleton killed Mr Donnelly because a guilty plea had been entered.
Mr Staines said the issue for the jury was whether or not Singleton had formed the intent to “kill or cause serious injury” when he twice stabbed Mr Donnelly on O’Connell Street.
He said Mr Donnelly made “repeated and obvious attempts” to move away from Singleton on the night. “There is no self-defence in this case, you do not see Mr Donnelly being aggressive, he was carrying a Coke bottle,” said Mr Staines, referring to CCTV seen by the jury.
It had been the prosecution’s case that provocation did not arise and said “the only issue is intent”, regarding the murder charge.
Mr Staines said “in law” being intoxicated with drugs or alcohol was not a defence and that it was only applicable if the defendant was incapable of either knowing what he was doing or was incapable of knowing the consequences of his actions.
The court heard Singleton had a 30-minute conversation with Garda Nicola Torsney, who was on patrol on O’Connell Street, in which he discussed his family, relationships, travel to England and his qualification achievements. He had hugged the Garda and thanked her for listening to him.
A few minutes later, Gda Torsney heard shouting and saw Singleton, Mr Donnelly and a female.
The garda became concerned and gave instructions over the radio to say that these two males should be watched.
“On foot of her instruction, the CCTV cameras moved to follow these two males,” Mr Staines said.
The barrister said the defendant had earlier discarded the knife in a bin but could later be seen on CCTV removing something from the bin. He then approached Mr Donnelly, which resulted in the knife attack outside ‘Dr Quirkey’s Good Time Emporium’.
Defending barrister, Michael Bowman SC, had said his client did not use drugs or alcohol as an excuse and that Singleton had already pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of father-of-one Mr Donnelly.
Mr Bowman said both the defendant and the accused moved in “similar, difficult circumstances”.
He had argued the possession of the knife by Singleton in his waistband was mentioned by the prosecution in a “narrow perspective” and asked the jury to “step back”. He said Mr Donnelly knew Singleton carried the knife and that Gda Torsney knew Singleton from being the victim of an attack that saw his “face slashed”, leaving him with a scar stretching from his forehead down to his chin.
The barrister said the benefit of doubt in criminal jury trials “was not to give passage to a rogue, nor safety to a scoundrel” but that the jury must side with the defence, even if a reasonable inference in favour of Singleton was a less likely than one made by the prosecution.
Mr Bowman had described the defendant and the deceased as “bosom buddies, soldiering through addiction”, adding that there was no “murderous intent” in Singleton towards his “friend”.
He said his client had even given Mr Donnelly €50 earlier that day and wished him well as the deceased got on a bus to collect his social welfare payment.
After examination by a doctor, it was discovered that alcohol, morphine, benzodiazepine and cocaine were in Singleton’s system on the night.
Mr Bowman said that during the conversation with Gda Torsney on the night, Singleton’s “emotions were ebbing and flowing from distress, to pride, to sadness”. Gda Torsney, however, had told the trial she did not believe Singleton to be intoxicated at the time of their conversation.
Mr Bowman described his client as being on an “emotional rollercoaster” and that he was “even oblivious to the fact that he had cocaine in his system”.
Mr Bowman said his client’s mind was “polluted, contaminated by a cocktail of alcohol and drugs” and that he was “barely coherent” when arrested. Mr Bowman argued that while the case was a “distressing and tragic” one, the state of his client’s mind meant Singleton could not have formed the intent to murder Mr Donnelly and his “culpability rests at manslaughter, not murder”.
In her charge to the jury on Wednesday, Ms Justice Murphy said it was up to the jury to decide whether or not intoxicating “drugs and/or alcohol” had made Singleton incapable of forming the intent to kill Mr Donnelly, as the defence had argued at trial.
At around 11am on the morning after the stabbing, a doctor, when looking for consent for surgery to injuries to Singleton, found him to be “incoherent, out of it”, the judge added. Ms Justice Murphy said if the jury therefore had a doubt about Singleton’s ability to form intent, then “the answer is manslaughter, but if there is no doubt, the verdict is murder”.