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28 Nov 2021

Kildare murder trial: Judge tells jury to ignore fact Stephen Penrose had "outburst" in courtroom when considering verdict

Penrose is accused of murdering Philip Finnegan in Rahin Woods in 2016

Man and woman to face trial at Central Criminal Court for child cruelty offences

The defendants are facing trial before the Central Criminal Court

A judge has told a jury that, when considering their verdict, they must ignore the fact that murder accused Stephen Penrose chose to be unrepresented at and declined to attend his trial and that he had "an outburst" in the courtroom.

In his charge to the jury this morning, Mr Justice Alexander Owens also said they must not let their views of Mr Penrose's general character "impinge" on their decision in the case and that his "repeated hiring and firing of solicitors and barristers" was irrelevant. 

Mr Penrose (38), of Newtown Court, Malahide Road, Coolock, Dublin 17, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Philip Finnegan (24) at Rahin Woods, Rahin, Edenderry, Co Kildare on August 10, 2016.

The trial has heard that Mr Finnegan was missing for just over three weeks before a dog walker and his two pets found his "skeletonised" remains buried in a shallow grave in the Kildare woods on September 2, 2016. 

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster has testified that the decapitated remains of Mr Finnegan were found in the grave on September 2 and attempts had been made to burn his body. In the expert witness's view, Mr Finnegan's death was caused by multiple stab wounds to the body, including two fatal ones to his liver and aorta. 

A forensic scientist told the jury that a DNA profile generated from a bloodied glove discovered near the remains of Mr Finnegan matched the DNA of Mr Penrose.

Beginning his charge to the jury this morning, Mr Justice Owens said they must not let their views of Mr Penrose's general character "impinge" on their decision in this case. "I think Mr Penrose described himself as no angel or no saint, that is irrelevant," he said.

The judge told the jurors that they must also ignore the fact that Mr Penrose has chosen to be unrepresented by legal expertise, that he had "an outburst" in the courtroom and that he had declined to attend the duration of the trial. "His repeated hiring and firing of solicitors and barristers is also irrelevant," he added. 

In the first week of the case, the judge warned Mr Penrose that he would be taken to the cells and banned from participating in his own trial, where he is representing himself, if he continued to "abuse" and "ballyrag" witnesses.

Mr Justice Owens said at the time that he would not allow his courtroom to become "a circus" after the defendant Mr Penrose accused a garda Inspector, who he was cross-examining, of lying under oath. "He is telling bullshit about me," Mr Penrose shouted in the courtroom, before demanding that the witness be "dismissed" from his trial as his "word" could not be accepted.

Shortly afterwards, Mr Penrose dispensed with what was his second legal team "once again" and declined to continue attending his trial. The case proceeded in his absence.

The judge also told the 12 jurors today that the accused had no obligation to cross-examine witnesses or give evidence in his own defence. 

Furthermore, the judge said the accused had elected not to give a closing speech and the prosecution did not have a right to give a closing speech as Mr Penrose was unrepresented for most of the trial and had not called any witnesses. 

Summarising the prosecution case, Mr Justice Owens said it was their contention that the evidence all pointed to the conclusion that Mr Finnegan was murdered and the jury must decide if Mr Penrose was the perpetrator or a perpetrator. 

The State's case, he said, is also that the evidence established that Mr Penrose brought Mr Finnegan to Rahin Woods and murdered him somewhere after 4.10pm on August 10, when the accused's cobalt blue Alfa Romeo car passed CCTV cameras at Grangewest in Co Kildare. The same car was next seen on CCTV footage at 5.13pm at Balrinnet in Co Kildare. 

"The prosecution case is also that the explanations given by Mr Penrose for that missing hour between 4.10pm and 5.13pm are not believable. The prosecution case is that Mr Penrose gave differing accounts to gardai of an attack by others on Mr Finnegan, which continued on during the course of his interviews," he added. 

The accused told gardai in his interviews that he and Mr Finnegan met a number of men in a black car on August 10. Mr Penrose said a man stabbed him in the arm and he also witnessed Mr Finnegan being stabbed in the back during an attack by the group of men. The accused said he then drove off at speed. 

The Central Criminal Court jury has heard that Mr Penrose gave different versions throughout his 19 interviews to detectives about where he had last seen Philip Finnegan. In his final interview, the accused told gardai that he and Mr Finnegan got attacked by a group of men at "a forest", having arranged to collect firearms from them.

The judge said the State's case is that the lies and constant changing of accounts by Mr Penrose was because he was trying to distance himself from murdering Mr Finnegan at Rahin Woods and that "this is the only logical explanation for it".

"The prosecution case is that Mr Penrose did not want to disclose the location of where he left Mr Finnegan as this would lead to gardai discovering the body and where he had murdered Mr Finnegan," he continued. 

The judge said the prosecution's case is also that the injury to Mr Penrose's left arm was not a defensive injury as he asserted but that the accused had cut himself when he was "knifing" Mr Finnegan to death or when he was trying to cut up the deceased's body. 

Referring to the defence case, Mr Justice Owens said that Mr Penrose maintained he was a friend of Mr Finnegan's and that they had met men that day to test firearms. The accused also said the reason he was wearing gloves was to test firearms, that he discarded a glove near a caravan at the entrance to Rahin Woods, that he was not in Rahin Woods when he escaped from the men and that he saw Mr Finnegan run away from the men after being stabbed in the back, he said. "He denied he had anything to do with the killing or had any idea where the body was found and [feared] if he told gardai what had happened then he and his family would be placed in danger," he added.

The judge asked the jury to consider if the only credible explanation for the accused's conduct was that he was trying to put gardai "off the scent" as to where Mr Finnegan's body would be found or if he was "covering up" to protect himself from "the assailants".

Mr Justice Owens said the evidence is that Mr Finnegan was murdered on August 10 and the issue they have to decide is whether the evidence proved that Mr Penrose was the murderer. 

"You also have the admission from Mr Penrose that Mr Finnegan was close to a wood or near a caravan when he last saw him," said the judge.

The jury can return two verdicts in relation to the murder charge against Mr Penrose, namely; guilty of murder or not guilty. 

Mr Justice Owens will continue his charge to the jury of eight men and four women this afternoon. 

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