People (Attorney General) v McMahon

JurisdictionIreland
CourtCourt of Criminal Appeal
Judgment Date12 Feb 1946

Court of Criminal Appeal

The People (Attorney - General) v. McMahon.
THE PEOPLE (at the Suit of the Attorney-General)
and
THOMAS McMAHON (1)

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.

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 cross-examination of the accused, counsel for the prosecution, at the request of the trial Judge, put the following questions to him:

"Can you explain now how this woman caught fire?""No, sir."

"Or how she got injured?" "No, sir."

The accused was re-examined, and at the conclusion of the re-examination, a number of further questions were put to him by the trial Judge, including the following:—

"Where is that broom handle; do you see that broom handle [produced]?" "Yes."

"Cleary says it was usually kept in the kitchen beside the table; is that right ?" "Cleary knew more about the house than what I did myself."

"Can't you answer a very simple question; is it right that that was usually kept beside the table under the lamp in the kitchen?" "I saw it in the kitchen a few times."

"Did you usually see it in that place?" "It was every place about the house to my thinking."

"Would you contradict Cleary when he says it was usually kept there?" [No answer.]

"This is what he says about it: 'It used to be kept in the house sometimes at the end of the bin near the door and between the bin and the table, that is, where the lamp is on the left-hand side'; did you hear Cleary say that?""Yes, my lord."

"Do you agree with him that that is where it was usually kept?" "It could be kept any place. It was not of any use for anything; she asked me for it one time to know was it any good to me."

"She asked for it?" "Yes, my lord."

"When?" "I could not exactly say."

"Have you mentioned this to anyone before—that she asked you for that?" "I was never asked about it."

The accused now applied to the Court of Criminal Appeal for leave to appeal to that Court against his conviction, the grounds of appeal set out in his notice of appeal being as follows:—

1. That at the close of the case for the State, the trial Judge should have acceeded to the application by counsel for the defence for a direction on one or all of the following grounds then submitted:—

(a) That there was no evidence that the deceased was murdered.

(b) That there was no evidence that the accused was guilty of the murder of the deceased.

(c) That by reason of the fact that the evidence put forward by the prosecution being purely circumstantial, the circumstances were inconsistent with the accused having committed the act.

(d) That by reason of the fact that the evidence put forward by the prosecution being purely circumstantial, if the facts were consistent with the accused...

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3 cases
  • DPP v White
    • Ireland
    • Court of Criminal Appeal
    • 19 October 2011
    ...People (DPP) v Coddington (Unrep, CCA, 31/5/2001) applied; People (DPP) v O'T (D) [2003] 4 IR 286 and People (Attorney General) v McMahon [1946] IR 267 considered - Appeal refused (218/2009 - CCA - 19/10/2011) [2011] IECCA 78 People (DPP) v White CCA218/2009 - Macken Budd O'Keeffe - CCA - 1......
  • 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 wa......
  • 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......

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