The late Kenneth O'Brien
A Dublin man will be sentenced to life in prison this afternoon for murdering a father-of-one by shooting him in the back of the head before dismembering him with the victim’s chainsaw and dumping his body parts in the Grand Canal.
Despite the cover-up, the evidence led gardai to Paul Wells Snr, who argued that he had acted in self defence when he shot Kenneth O’Brien. He continued with this account, even after a post-mortem exam found that the gun had been held up against the back of his victim’s head.
Wells Snr (50) of Barnamore Park, Finglas admitted shooting dead fellow Dubliner Kenneth O’Brien and dismembering his body. However, the father-of-five pleaded not (NOT) guilty to murdering the 33-year-old at his home in Barnamore Park on 15th or 16th January, 2016.
He claimed that the deceased had wanted him to murder Mr O’Brien’s partner, so that he could take their child back to Australia, where he had previously lived.
He told gardai that Mr O’Brien had brought a gun to his house for this purpose on the evening of the 15th but that he didn’t want to do it. He claimed that a scuffle ensued when Mr O’Brien allegedly suggested he make it look like sexual assault. He said that the gun fell, they both tried to get it, but that he got to it first and shot his friend.
He said that he then panicked, ‘chopped him into pieces’ with a chainsaw Mr O’Brien had lent him, put his torso into Mr O’Brien’s suitcase and dumped it in the Grand Canal.
The trial heard that Kenneth O’Brien had begun dating Eimear Dunne 14 years earlier when they were still teenagers. They’d bought a house in Clondalkin in 2006, the relationship had faltered a couple of years later when Mr O’Brien had an affair. However, the partnership had later strengthened they’d had a child in 2011.
Mr O’Brien moved to Australia in 2013 with a view to making enough money to pay off their mortgage and move out of Dublin. He returned home for their son’s birthday and Christmas, with him moving home for good just before Christmas 2015. The various generations of his family turned up at the airport to welcome him home. They said he was happy to be home.
He hadn’t begun looking for a job in Ireland but had been offered work by his old boss. He had agreed to do one day for him in Limerick on January 15th, the day he went missing.
Ms Dunne’s 30th birthday party had been arranged for that night and he’d asked that it be cancelled due to this job. When Ms Dunne and their child kissed him goodbye that morning, he reminded her that he would be late that night due to the job being in Limerick. However, the job had already been cancelled.
The couple exchanged text messages throughout the early part of that day but, unusually, his phone was off that afternoon and Ms Dunne was unable to contact him.
She had still heard nothing by the time she went to bed that night, but received a text message from an unknown number at 3.30am. It was purporting to be from her partner, telling her he had lost his phone, was having a drink and was staying in a hotel that night. She thought that it was not like her partner to go for a drink in his work clothes.
She received another message from the same number at 7.49am. It contained much more detail:
“So here it is,” it read. “I’m heading for the ferry today. I can’t handle being home and I want out. You care more about … your family anyway, so f**k the lot. I met someone else and she came to Ireland yesterday. I met her today. I’m going with her. There’s no point in talking. All I’d get anyway is a row.”
The sender wrote that she would hear from him when he was sorted to organise things with their son and his ‘gear’.
“I've had to spoof everyone to do this but this girl will put it right. I’ll be in touch,” it concluded.
She replied immediately but then noticed spelling and grammar errors, along with words her partner would never use. Ms Dunne began calling family and Mr O’Brien’s friends, including the accused.
He confirmed that her partner had been having an affair and Ms Dunne collapsed mid phone-call. Wells drove straight over to her and showed her photographs that Mr O’Brien had sent him, proving that he had been seeing someone else.
Despite this news, she and family members were still worried, and Mr O’Brien’s aunt reported him missing that evening.
By then, a couple out walkig had spotted a suitcase in the Grand Canal in Ardclough, Co Kildare, near to where Mr O’Brien had previously run a garage. The suitcase was found to contain a man’s torso.
A DNA sample from Mr O’Brien’s mother confirmed that the torso was his. More human remains were later found in a number of shopping bags elsewhere in the canal, with 10 body parts in total retrieved. Mr O’Brien’s hands were never recovered.
The investigation into Mr O’Brien’s death included the usual search through CCTV footage and phone records, along with a trawl of the deceased’s bank accounts.
This showed that Mr O’Brien had made a stream of lodgements to Wells’s bank account during his last 18 months in Australia. The transfers had totalled almost E53,000.
Wells’s home was searched and he was arrested in early February. He denied involvement in his first interviews, but confessed after the statement of his own son, Paul Wells Jnr, was put to him. He had ‘self reported’ the fact that his father had sent the chainsaw to him days after the killing.
Even under what the State described as the ‘crushing weight of evidence’ against him, he had tried to put off addressing his son’s statement. He had asked to see Eimear Dunne or her sister so he could tell them the truth first.
After a six-hour interview, he indicated that he would tell the whole story the following day, with the preview that ‘this was much bigger than what happened to Kenneth’, that there was a lot of money involved, with somebody in Australia ‘very rich’.
He denied that the money, which Mr O’Brien had transferred into his account, had anything to do with the killing. The court heard Wells had withdrawn it and he claimed he had given it to back to Mr O’Brien as cash in brown paper envelopes.
“He got his money,” he said.
He told a long, complex and detailed story of his friendship with Mr O’Brien and of the evening he killed him in his backyard.
He painted a picture of the people for whom Mr O’Brien had worked in Australia, describing biker gangs, prostitutes and bags of drug money allegedly found and kept by Mr O’Brien. He described the deceased as devious and highlighted a number of incidents where he had deceived people.
However, a forensic accountant gave evidence of nothing untoward appearing in Mr O’Brien’s accounts. The money he had transferred to his family and to Mr Wells had come from his wages.
When Wells finally confessed, he gave a story that the prosecutor described as ‘bizarre’ and his own barrister described as ‘staggering’.
He told gardai that he’d asked him to murder Ms Dunne, but he hadn’t wanted to. However, he said he had bought Mr O’Brien a sim card that would be used in the killing and was to meet him in the city centre that day to take possession of the gun. He said he’d changed his mind and gone home, he said, but Mr O’Brien later turned up at his door.
He described the disagreement he allegedly had with Mr O’Brien about murdering Ms Dunne. He said he told his friend it was ‘unnecessary’ and had walked outside onto his decking. He said that Mr O’Brien had followed him out and that they’d spoken in hushed tones about how Mr O’Brien wanted him to carry out the killing an hour or two later.
He became upset in his interview, describing the ‘smiley face’ the deceased would allegedly send him to ‘signal that it was clear to go to the house and take a life’.
“After I had shot her, he wanted me to, and this was the worst part for me aside from what he asked me,” he began. “I was to interfere with her clothing to give the impression that she’d been sexually abused,” he continued. “I f***ing lost it. And I recall pushing him violently.”
He said they struggled but that Mr O’Brien was a lot stronger than him, having ‘practised a bit of wrestling’ in Australia.
“I ended up behind him…., and the gun dropped,” he said. “He tried to grab the gun off the floor. I thought if he got the gun he’d shoot me. I’d never seen him like that before. I never thought it was in him. I panicked and got the gun first,” he continued.
“And I shot him, in the back of the head,” he said. “I panicked. I put the gun to his head. I pulled the trigger. I didn’t want to kill him. He was my friend.”
He said he passed out and lay there with him for hours. He described in detail his coming to terms with what he had done and what he had to do after killing the friend with whom he had laughed and giggled; he said he had to bite down on a wrung-up tea towel in order to take the chainsaw to his body.
He carefully detailed the clean-up and the disposal of the remains, describing it as ‘pure f***ing carnage’.
“I had the most barbaric thought I ever thought in my life,” he said. “The only way I could take him out was take him out in parts. I was looking at saws I had. Then I remembered I had the f***ing chainsaw.”
He said he had previously borrowed the chainsaw from Mr O’Brien to take a tree stump out of his backyard.
Despite all the extra details he gave, his description of using the chainsaw was so short that gardai asked him to return to it.
“I made a couple of attempts to cut Kenneth and I couldn't’ do it. I put the tea towel into my mouth and bit down,” he said.
“When I chopped him into pieces I was on my knees,” he explained. “It was f***ing savagery.”
He detailed his two trips with the remains to the Grand Canal. Parts of these journeys had been captured on CCTV and shown to the jury.
Notwithstanding his confessions, there were discrepancies between aspects of his account and other evidence. He said he had passed out for hours after the shooting, waking after 8pm.
However, phone records showed contact with a family member during this time. He said they were talking about an upcoming stag party. There was phone contact with other family members later that evening. This was general chat, he said.
He agreed he had sent Ms Dunne the two messages, purporting to be from her partner, the following morning. He said he had put the new sim he had bought into Mr O’Brien’s phone to send them.
He was asked why the one about ‘heading for the ferry’ was sent from a mast at the East Link Bridge.
“I was in lala land that morning,” he said, denying that it was so that phone records would show that number in the area of the ferry.
He was then informed that gardai could tell that he had placed the sim he had bought into a different phone, the box of which was found in his home.
“This has blown your story out of the water,” they said. “You bought this phone for one purpose, the murder of Kenneth O’Brien. You had it before he arrived and put the sim card into it.”
The prosecution described this as a premeditated execution. In his closing speech, Sean Gillane SC noted that Mr O’Brien hadn’t been in the Wells family home in more than a year, yet had arrived on the one day that Mrs Wells and her son were away on a planned trip.It was also the day that the accused had told his adult son not to come home that evening, as he was expecting a friend
“Perhaps that involves a question of your toleration of coincidence,” he suggested. “
He described the clean-up as almost professional, noting that the gardai had to use forensic tools to find traces of blood no-longer visible to the naked eye.
Wells had cried crocodile tears in interview, he said, but they weren’t tears of conscience. He said he had eventually taken confessed ‘under the crushing weight of evidence.