Two men who played roles in the murder of dissident republican Peter Butterly have been jailed by the Special Criminal Court this morning.
Peter Butterly (35), was chased and shot dead outside The Huntsman Inn, Gormanston, Co Meath in view of students waiting for their school bus on the afternoon of March 6, 2013. The father-of-three died from gun shots wounds to his neck and upper back.
Michael McDermott (60) was today sentenced to four years in prison, with the final six months suspended while his co-accused Frank Murphy (59) was jailed for three years with the final year suspended.
Michael McDermott, of Riverdale House, Garrymore, Ballinagh, Co Cavan, pleaded guilty in November last year to helping an unlawful organisation murder Mr Butterly.
McDermott admitted to knowingly rendering assistance to an unlawful organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hEireann, otherwise the IRA, directly or indirectly, in the performance or furtherance of an unlawful object, to wit, the murder of Peter Butterly, at diverse locations within the State, between March 3 and March 6, 2013, both dates inclusive.
In the same month, Frank Murphy of McDonagh Caravan Park, Triton Road, Bettystown, Co Meath, pleaded guilty to committing an act to impede the apprehension or prosecution of former accused-turned State witness David Cullen, knowing or believing him to be guilty of possession of a firearm in suspicious circumstances within the State on March 6, 2013.
Both men had originally pleaded not guilty at the three-judge court to the murder of Mr Butterly and their trials had been underway since the beginning of October last year, the court heard.
Sentencing McDermott this morning, Mr Justice Paul Coffey said the only assistance the court could be sure that the defendant was involved in was the recruiting and instructing of David Cullen in the disposal of the murder weapon.
Having regard to the gravity of the offence, the judge said it was at the lower end of the higher range and the maximum sentence was eight years in prison.
The appropriate starting point for this offence was six years imprisonment, indicated the judge. Although McDermott's guilty plea was not offered at the earliest opportunity, it was timely and valuable, outlined Mr Justice Coffey. The court also took into account that McDermott has no previous convictions and is a "loving and supporting" husband and father.
The judge said the court would reduce the headline sentence of six years to four years imprisonment. Following this, Mr Justice Coffey said the court would further suspend the last six months of the sentence on condition that McDermott entered a peace bond to be of good behaviour for a period of four years.
Mr Justice Coffey, sitting with Judge Martin Nolan and Judge James Faughnan, sentenced McDermott to four years imprisonment with the final six months suspended, backdated to October 12, 2018 to take into account time spent in custody.
Referring to Frank Murphy, Mr Justice Coffey said the maximum sentence for impeding the apprehension or prosecution of a person was seven years in prison.
The judge said Murphy had driven to Gormanston College with the intention of picking up David Cullen but he [Cullen] was almost instantaneously apprehended by gardai. There was unchallenged evidence that, on the day after the shooting, Murphy attended a meeting that was covertly recorded by gardai, the judge said.
The court said the starting point for this offence was four and a half years in prison.
The mitigating factors in Murphy’s case were that he has no previous convictions and has suffered from failing health in recent years. Mr Justice Coffey said that the defendant was also prepared to give an undertaking to the non-jury court not to associate with anyone in an unlawful organisation nor with anyone charged or already convicted by the Special Criminal Court. On account of this, the court reduced Murphy’s sentence from four and a half years to three years.
Mr Justice Coffey said the court would further suspend the final year of Murphy’s sentence if he entered a peace bond to be of good behaviour for a period of three years. The three-judge panel sentenced Murphy to three years imprisonment with the final year suspended, backdated to November 14, 2018 to take into account time already spent in custody.
Following sentencing the two men gave little reaction before they were led away by prison officers.
David Cullen was originally charged with the murder of Peter Butterly, from Dunleer, Co Louth, who was shot outside The Huntsman Inn in Gormanston on the afternoon of March 6, 2013.
In July 2014, Cullen pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of a semi-automatic pistol at the Huntsman Inn on the day of the shooting. His plea was accepted by the DPP and a nolle prosequi – a decision not to proceed – was entered on the count of murder and he turned State's witness. Cullen was sentenced to seven years in prison, with three and a half years suspended, for possession of the firearm in July 2014.
Four men - Kevin Braney (44), of Glenshane Crescent, Tallaght, Dublin 24; Edward McGrath (37), of Land Dale Lawns, Springfield, Tallaght; Sharif Kelly (49), of Pinewood Green Road, Balbriggan and Dean Evans (27), of Grange Park Rise, Raheny, Dublin - have all already received life sentences at the Special Criminal Court following convictions for Mr Butterly's murder.