People (Attorney General) v McMahon

Judgment Date12 February 1946
Date12 February 1946
CourtCourt of Criminal Appeal
The People (Attorney - General) v. McMahon.
THE PEOPLE (at the Suit of the Attorney-General)

Court of Criminal Appeal

Criminal law - Appeal - Conviction for murder - Defence that death was caused by injury accidentally self-inflicted - Onus of proof of accident - Necessity for prosecution to negative every hypothesis consistent with innocence of accused.

The accused was charged with the murder of his mother-in-law, an elderly woman, who lived with the accused and another man, and whose lifeless body, considerably burned and with a severe bruise on the head, was found in her kitchen with traces of paraffin oil upon her flesh and clothing. Medical evidence was given to the effect that the cause of death was burning, but there was no direct evidence as to how the burns were caused. Counsel for the prosecution contended that the deceased had met her death through being struck on the head, possibly with a broom handle upon which blood stains were found, and having had paraffin oil poured over her and ignited, and that these acts had been committed by the accused. The defence was that the accused was not present when the injuries were received by the deceased, and that there was no sufficient proof that they had not been accidently self-inflicted.

At the trial, counsel for the prosecution, at the request of the trial Judge, asked the accused for an explanation as to how the deceased had caught fire and been injured, and the Judge, at the close of the re-examination of the accused, put further questions to him seeking an explanation as to the blood stains on the broom handle and marks of burning on the deceased's clothing. Reliance was also placed by counsel for the prosecution upon certain statements supposed to have been made by a local priest, who had arrived at the scene of the tragedy shortly after it occurred, but who had not been called as a witness in the case, indicating that he suspected foul play. The accused was convicted, and sought leave to appeal against his conviction upon a number of grounds.

Held, applying the principle laid down in Woolmington v. Director of Public Prosecutions, [1935] A. C. 462, that in a prosecution for murder, the onus lies upon the prosecution to prove every element which is necessary to constitute guilt, leaving aside the exceptional case of insanity; that the prosecution was bound, in the circumstances of the case, to negative every supposition consistent with the innocence of the accused, and that there was no obligation upon the defence of showing that the death of the deceased had been caused accidentally.

Held, further, that certain of the questions put to the accused and portions of the Judge's charge may have led the jury to believe that there lay on the accused an onus not warranted by law, and accordingly that the verdict could not stand.

Criminal Appeal.

The appellant, Thomas McMahon, was indicted at the Central Criminal Court before Mr. Justice Martin Maguire and a jury upon a charge of having murdered one, Mary Keating, at Ballymacrinan, Kilrush, in the County of Clare, on the 15th of January, 1944. He pleaded not guilty. The trial opened on the 14th of November, 1944, and was continued for eight days, and on the 22nd of November, the

jury returned a verdict of guilty with a strong recommendation to mercy. The accused was sentenced to death, and an application for a certificate for leave to appeal refused.

From the evidence given at the trial, it appeared that the accused was the son-in-law of the deceased woman, and that the accused, the deceased, and an elderly man named Cleary had lived together for some years in the accused's house where the woman's death took place. The deceased, who was sixty-three years of age, was a widow, and was described as an active, healthy woman. The accused was a farmer.

The death of the deceased occurred in the early part of the evening on the 15th of January, the only other person in the immediate vicinity being the accused. In his evidence he stated that on entering the kitchen he discovered the deceased lying on the floor on fire, and that he and Cleary, to whom he had shouted for assistance, extinguished the flames by throwing several buckets of water on the body.

Medical evidence on behalf of the prosecution was given by Dr. McGrath, a pathologist, to the effect that the deceased, when examined by him on the day after her death, was severely burned about the head and chest, that some of the burning must have occurred while she was alive, and most of her clothing was also damaged by fire. There was a scalp wound about an inch long which could have been caused by her running violently against a sharp edge or by a blunt weapon, and which would have been sufficient to stun her, together with several bruises on her head which might have resulted from a severe fall. In the pathologist's opinion the cause of death was shock and asphyxia caused by burns, and the other injuries were received by the deceased before her death. He also gave evidence that small splashes of human blood were found by him on various articles including clothing, a brush handle, a spinning wheel, and some linoleum.

Counsel for the prosecution also produced hearsay evidence as to certain observations made by a local priest who was called in immediately after the occurrence, but who was not called as a witness.

During the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
3 cases
  • DPP v White
    • Ireland
    • Court of Criminal Appeal
    • 19 October 2011
    ...1 WLR 1039 DPP v M UNREP CCA 15.2.2001 2001/8/1990 DPP v DUNBAR (ORSE MCMANUS) UNREP CCA 12.4.2011 2011 IECCA 32 PEOPLE (AG) v MCMAHON 1946 IR 267 PEOPLE (DPP) v O'T (D) 2003 4 IR 286 PEOPLE (DPP) v FINNERTY 1994 4 IR 364 PEOPLE (DPP) v CODDINGTON UNREP CCA 31.5.2001 2001/7/1688 PEOPLE (DPP......
  • People (Attorney General) v Dwyer
    • Ireland
    • Supreme Court
    • 1 January 1974
    ...213. 8 [1947] I.R. 247. 9 (1825) 1 Mood. C.C. 80. 10 [1942] A.C. 1. 11 [1915] 2 K.B. 431. 12 [1935] A.C. 462. 13 [1966] I.R. 162. 14 [1946] I.R. 267. 15 [1965] I.R. 366. 16 [1971] A.C. 814. 17 [1954] 1 W.L.R. 1119. 18 [1961] A.C. 290. 19 (1931) 34 S.W. (2nd) 941. 20 (1963) 111 C.L.R. 610, 6......
  • O'Laoire v Medical Council
    • Ireland
    • High Court
    • 27 January 1995
    ...The law was thus stated by Maguire P. giving the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeal in The People (Attorney General) -v- McMahon (1946) I.R. 267 at p. 273:- "In Attorney General -v- McMahon ( 66 I.L.T.R. 211) this Court set aside a conviction where, as the Court held, the case was one......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT