The People (At the Suit of the DPP) v Keith Connorton

JudgeMr Justice Edwards
Judgment Date21 October 2021
Neutral Citation[2021] IECA 275
CourtCourt of Appeal (Ireland)
Docket NumberRecord No: 25/2019
The People (At the Suit of the Director of Public Prosecutions)
Keith Connorton

[2021] IECA 275

Birmingham P

Edwards J.

McCarthy J.

Record No: 25/2019


Conviction – Murder – Criminal Justice Act 2006 s. 16 – Appellant seeking to appeal against conviction – Whether the trial judge erred in law in his interpretation and application of s. 16 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006

Facts: The appellant, Mr Connorton, on the 21st December 2018, was convicted by a 10/2 majority verdict of a jury in the Central Criminal Court of the murder of Mr McKeever on the 18th of February 2017 at 53 Deerpark Avenue, Tallaght, Co Dublin, contrary to common law and as provided for in s. 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1964, following a 10 day trial. He was sentenced to the mandatory term of imprisonment for life on the 28th of January 2019. The appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal against his conviction. The appellant’s notice of appeal advanced three grounds of appeal, which were that: (1) the trial judge erred in law in his interpretation and application of s. 16 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006; (2) the trial judge erred in law and in fact in admitting as evidence the statements of Ms McGrath pursuant to s. 16 of the 2006 Act in circumstances where there was insufficient evidence before the court as to the reliability of statements, including the manner in which they had been recorded; and (3) the trial judge erred in law and in fact in allowing the prosecution to play a ‘999’ call made by Ms McGrath to the jury, in circumstances where the legal basis pursuant to which the trial judge was requested to admit the evidence was uncertain, unclear and/or confused.

Held by the Court that the trial judge was correct to admit Ms McGrath’s first statement and the relevant portion of her second statement into evidence pursuant to s. 16 of the 2003 Act. In the circumstances the Court rejected the first and second grounds of appeal. The Court held that it was safe to admit the recording of Ms McGrath’s 999 call, and that the trial judge was correct to do so. Accordingly, the Court rejected the third ground of appeal.

The Court dismissed the appeal against the appellant’s conviction for murder.

Appeal dismissed.


JUDGMENT of the Court delivered by Mr Justice Edwards on the 21st day of October 2021 .


. On the 21 st December 2018 the appellant was convicted by a 10/2 majority verdict of a jury in the Central Criminal Court of the murder of Graham McKeever on the 18 th of February 2017 at 53 Deerpark Avenue, Tallaght, Co Dublin, contrary to common law and as provided for in s. 4 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1964, following a 10 day trial. He was sentenced to the mandatory term of imprisonment for life on the 28 th of January 2019.


. The appellant now appeals against his conviction.

Background to the case and key evidence at voir dire and before the jury

. The case was presented by the prosecution on the basis that it was a so-called “love triangle” case. Prior to the date of the alleged offence, the appellant had been in a relationship with a Ms Clare McGrath for approximately three years. They had a son together and lived in an apartment located at 53 Deerpark Avenue, Tallaght. In her sworn evidence to the jury Ms McGrath stated that they had been going through “a very very rocky patch” in their relationship for about a year, but they were “never not together”. However, she had previously said in a statement to gardaí that the relationship had been “on and off” for the past 6 months and that, as far as she was concerned, they were finished. She told the jury that they would row frequently, usually about his drug abuse, and the appellant typically would leave the apartment rather than continue the fight, only to return later. A number of weeks prior to the alleged offence, Ms. McGrath began a relationship with another man, Graham McKeever, without the appellant's knowledge. The appellant, Ms McGrath and Mr McKeever all had addiction issues.


. Ms McGrath's evidence was that three days before the incident she and the appellant had had a row, and he had left the apartment. Ms McGrath told the jury that the appellant was in the habit of returning to the house even when their relationship was not going well, and that he would stay there most nights, sleeping on the couch when they did not sleep in the same bed together, because it was his house, i.e., his clothes and medication were there, his name was on the lease and the rent was funded by his HAP (the acronym stands for Housing Assistance Payment) payment.


. She further explained that she and the appellant usually used a patio door as their main means of ingress to and egress from the apartment, in preference to the front door which they kept permanently locked by means of a bolt on the inside. On occasions when they had rowed, and the appellant had left the apartment as he had done on this occasion, Ms McGrath would sometimes leave a key in the lock on the inside of the patio door to prevent the appellant from re-entering and would leave it there until she was prepared to have him back.


. In very broad-brush outline, the circumstances giving rise to the charge of murder were that in the early hours of the 18 th of February 2017, Ms McGrath and Mr McKeever were in bed together in the flat and engaged in some intimacy when they heard a noise. Ms McGrath left the bedroom on her own to investigate and discovered the appellant in the kitchen/sitting room. The appellant had seemingly been able to enter because Mr McGrath had earlier, for some reason or other, removed the key from the inside of the patio door and neglected to replace it. There was then some conversation between the appellant and Ms McGrath, followed by some physical interaction between them (there are conflicting accounts of the circumstances), leading Ms McGrath to emit some form of exclamation. Mr McKeever then entered the kitchen/sitting room and became embroiled in a physical altercation with the appellant. In the course of that altercation Mr McKeever was stabbed with a knife in the chest (it was the prosecution's case that he was stabbed by the appellant), and sustained injuries from which he rapidly died.


. It will be clear from this very brief overview that, in circumstances where the only persons present during the incident were the appellant, the deceased and Ms McGrath, that Ms McGrath's evidence was going to be of critical importance and significance in the trial. In the course of the subsequent Garda investigation into the death of Mr McKeever, Ms McGrath made statements on two separate occasions. These were included in the Book of Evidence and she was to be the principal witness for the prosecution.


. In the course of testifying before the jury concerning what had occurred during the incident leading to the deceased being stabbed Ms McGrath deviated, the prosecution maintain significantly, from what she had said in her earlier statements to gardaí. In those circumstances counsel for the prosecution applied to the trial judge, successfully, for leave to treat her as a hostile witness and to cross examine her on her statements, and also for leave to invoke s.16 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006, and to place her statements to gardaí in evidence before the jury. An issue to be addressed on this appeal is whether the trial judge was correct in admitting those statements under s.16. However, before considering that, it is necessary to now outline in more detail what Ms McGrath said in evidence before the jury, and what she had previously said to gardaí.

Ms McGrath's account of the incident in her testimony before the jury

. Ms McGrath told the jury that prior to the 17 th of February 2017 Mr McKeever had never been to the apartment. On that date, Ms McGrath having invited him to Tallaght, in circumstances where it was understood that he would spend the night with her at the apartment, he had taken the LUAS from town (i.e., Dublin city centre) to Tallaght, and she had met him at ‘The Square’.


. Earlier in the day Ms McGrath, accompanied by her son, had met up with her mother at ‘The Square’, and her mother had loaned her some money. Her mother then went about her own business. After Ms McGrath met up with Mr McKeever they purchased alcohol using the money loaned by Ms McGrath's mother, and she, her son, and Mr McKeever then walked back to the apartment. She estimated their time of arrival at the apartment to be between 5 pm and 7pm.


. Ms McGrath told the jury that she had seen the appellant earlier that day, sometime between 1 pm and 3 pm when he had called to the apartment, but that he wasn't in his right mind. He was intoxicated with drugs. He had been unable to get in through the patio door at that stage because the key was in the lock on the inside. They had had an argument. She told him to leave and come back to her when he was sober. However, she admitted that in doing so she had had a different agenda. She had not wanted the appellant there in circumstances where Mr McKeever would be coming to the apartment later.


. Ms McGrath was asked if there was any question of Keith Connorton coming back that night, and she replied, “That's where I confused myself, I don't know what possessed me to think that he wouldn't, I don't know why I thought he wouldn't come back, he always does. I just had a bad lapse of judgment.” Pressed as to why she had subsequently removed the key from the back of the patio door she said, “I don't know what possessed me to take it out of the door and bring it into the bedroom with me, but I did.”


. Ms McGrath told the jury that following their arrival at the apartment they had had a drink, watched television, played with her son, had dinner and had chatted. The child...

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