By: Shawn Pogatchnik, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Ireland’s senior criminal appeals court on Friday overturned a Dublin drug dealer’s conviction for the murder of investigative journalist Veronica Guerin, a 1996 slaying that spurred an unprecedented manhunt and two Hollywood films.
Justice Frank Murphy, senior member of the three-judge Court of Criminal Appeal, said the murder conviction of Paul “Hippo” Ward must be quashed because the original 1998 trial had placed too much weight on the uncorroborated testimony of a state-protected witness.
The verdict doesn’t mean freedom for Ward, because he still must serve a 12-year sentence for taking part in a prison riot.
But it raised doubts about whether convictions would stand against two more senior members of the drug-smuggling gang blamed for slaying Guerin.
During Ward’s 1998 murder trial, fellow gang member Charles Bowden received immunity from prosecution for murder in exchange for testifying that Ward disposed of the handgun and motorcycle used to kill Guerin. Bowden admitted he had supplied and loaded the gun.
Guerin, 37, a crime reporter for the Sunday Independent newspaper of Dublin, was shot five times in her car as it idled at an intersection. The triggerman, the back-seat passenger on a motorcycle, has never been publicly identified.
Guerin had reported extensively on the drug-dealing empire of John Gilligan, who employed Ward, Bowden, and Brian Meehan. Before her death she said Gilligan had beaten her up when she confronted him at the front door of his suburban horse ranch, then sent a henchman to shoot her in the leg at her own home.
Meehan was convicted in 1999 of murdering Guerin after Bowden and others identified him as the motorcycle driver. He received a life sentence.
Gilligan, who spent three years battling extradition from England after being arrested there with a suitcase full of drug money, was acquitted of murdering Guerin at his 2001 trial even though the judges cited their “grave suspicions” that he masterminded the hit.
Gilligan was convicted of a trove of drug-related offenses and received a 28-year sentence, the biggest ever imposed for drug dealing in Irish history.
Bowden served part of a five-year sentence for distributing illegal drugs and since has been living somewhere secret overseas with a new identity. So has Russell Warren, a second member of Gilligan’s gang given immunity in exchange for testimony.
During Ward’s appeal hearing earlier this month, his lawyers were allowed to present details of the 1999 and 2001 verdicts against Meehan and Gilligan. The judges in both cases had concluded that both Bowden and Warren had lied at times to the court and to police and had produced many inconsistencies in their accounts.
One of Ward’s lawyers, Barry White, also presented a letter written by Bowden to the Department of Justice seeking to confirm he would be given full protection in exchange for a good “performance” in his testimony against Ward, Meehan, and Gilligan.
White added that Bowden could have been the gunman and implicated others in the gang to minimize his own role.
Guerin’s story has already been dramatized in a 1999 film starring Joan Allen, “When the Sky Falls.” A second film, starring Cate Blanchett and being directed by Joel Schumacher, is in production.