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Cooraclare farmer not guilty of criminal damage to mother’s home

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A JURY has returned a verdict of not guilty at the trial of a west Clare farmer who had been accused of using a digger to cause €50,000 worth of damage to his mother’s home, reports Ronan Judge.

At Ennis Circuit Court today, it took the jury 36 minutes to find John Morrissey (53) not guilty of a single count of criminal damage.

The Cooraclare native embraced his wife and thanked his solicitor Stiofán Fitzpatrick after the verdict was read out.

Discharging the jury, Judge Brian O’Callaghan said, “This has been a sad case in many respects.”

Mr Morrissey, a married father of six, with an address at Clonreddan, Cooraclare, had pleaded not guilty to the charge of criminal damage.

The charge stated he caused, without lawful excuse, damage to the external and internal structure of his mother, Mary Morrissey’s home in Alva, Cooraclare on December 13, 2019.

The charge stated he damaged the contents of the house, an external garage and a septic tank at the same location and on the same date.

It was the State’s case that Mr Morrissey leased a digger and used it to deliberately cause €50,000 worth of damage to the property and he had no excuse for doing so.

Speaking at at Ennis Courthouse today minutes after the verdict, Mr Morrissey said, “Right was proved”.

Mr Morrissey has spent close to a year on remand in custody awaiting trial and today said, “I’m resilient.”

He also said “thank you” to the jury.

John Morrissey – the eldest of 13 children to the late Mary and Tom Morrissey – farmed the land around his mother’s home and the jury was told on the first day of the trial that there was a “family background” to the case.

In his closing speech to the jury today, defence counsel, Patrick Whyms BL, said, “This is an unusual case by any standards and a sad case for obvious reasons”.

Counsel told the jury the facts of the case were not really in dispute and they had to determine that if what happened at Alva, Cooraclare on December 13, 2019 was a crime.

The trial had heard that Mary Morrissey, who passed away in May 2020, had dementia and was on a respite stay when her home was damaged in December 2019.

Counsel said John Morrissey had told three people including two gardaí what he had done to his mother’s house.

Mr Whyms said his client told the two gardaí that he had acted out of concern for the manner in which his mother was being cared for and that he wanted her to stay in respite care.

Counsel said if a person believes it is reasonable to act in order to protect someone then that “provides a lawful excuse.”

Counsel said his client was entirely honest in telling three people what he had done at his mother’s home, so why should we think he was not telling the truth when he said why he did it.

“In his own mind he was acting to protect his mother”, counsel added.

Counsel also asked the jury to consider John Morrissey’s “state of mind” in December 2019.

Mr Whyms said Mr Morrissey was a man with “problems” whose GP had signed him into the acute unit of Ennis General Hospital days after the incident.

Counsel said Mr Morrissey was “not a lunatic” but a “pillar of the community” and “a good citizen” who had never been in trouble before.

Mr Whyms asked the jury to consider “how proud and satisfied” John Morrissey must have felt having built his mother’s house 20 years ago and what it would’ve taken to knock it down.

“This man is an ordinary decent upstanding citizen of this State who had some issues on this occasion…he is not a criminal”, counsel added.

The jury returned their verdict on day four of the trial at Ennis Circuit Court.

The jury heard evidence that in the hours after the incident on December 13, 2019, John Morrissey rang Kilrush based detective garda, Oliver Downes.

The detective said John Morrissey told him, “I did a mad thing this evening. I damaged the septic tank and bathroom of my mother’s house with a digger.”

Cooraclare farmer Hallam Studdert gave evidence on the second day of the trial that he had a conversation with John Morrissey on the evening of December 13, 2019.

He said John Morrissey told him “he’d a bit of damage done” at his “mammy’s house”.

A retired garda sergeant, Pat Fitzmaurice, gave evidence that John Morrissey called to Gort Garda Station on December 20, 2019.

He said John Morrissey recounted to him that he used a “JCB type vehicle” to damage his mother’s home so she couldn’t live in it and she would have to stay in respite.

Four of the accused’s siblings; Joseph, Annie, Nora and Tom, gave evidence after being called by the prosecution.

Another brother, Martin Morrissey, gave evidence on Wednesday and was the sole defence witness.

Martin Morrissey said he visited his mother’s home the day after the alleged damage.

He said he asked John Morrissey what had happened.

He said his brother told him, “They are going to have to take care of her properly now”,

“John adored his mother”, he added.

The trial opened before Judge Brian O’Callaghan at Ennis Circuit Court on Monday.

It is the first criminal trial to take place in Clare since the introduction of strict covid-19 safety requirements.

A jury of six men and six women were sworn in at Ennis Courthouse.

They were selected from a jury panel that assembled in Glor theatre in Ennis before being transported by bus to the courthouse.

The jury did not sit together in the jury box but instead were spread out around the courtroom in accordance with social distancing.

Protective screens were fitted throughout the courtroom and attendance during the trial was limited.

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