· Government to advise President to exercise his right of pardon in respect of Mr Harry Gleeson's conviction in 1941 under Article 13.6 of the Constitution
· Review by Mr Shane Murphy SC concludes deficiencies in conviction rendering it unsafe
· Government deeply regrets unsafe conviction of Mr Gleeson and wishes to express its sympathy with both families
Wednesday 1 April 2015
Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice and Equality, announced today that the Government has decided to advise the President to exercise his right of pardon under Article 13.6 of the Constitution in respect of the conviction in 1941 of Mr. Harry Gleeson for the murder of Ms. Mary McCarthy.
On 27 February 1941, Mr. Harry Gleeson was convicted of the murder, in November 1940, of Ms. Mary McCarthy. He was sentenced to death and executed on 23 April 1941.
Questions have been raised over many years regarding the safety of the conviction. Most recently, on foot of a submission from the Innocence Project Ireland and the Justice for Harry Gleeson Group, the Attorney General directed that the case be subject to final and authoritative review by Mr. Shane Murphy SC. Mr. Murphy's review concluded that in his opinion there were deficiencies in the conviction such as to render it unsafe.
Mr. Murphy's examination concluded that, in his opinion, a number of new matters which have come to light, combined with his assessment of the existing features of the evidence given at the trial, led him to form the opinion that Mr. Gleeson's conviction was unsafe.
These combined factors include:
• Inconsistencies pertaining to the medical evidence and the purported time of death. Although there was a degree of uncertainty at the trial surrounding the time of death, the prosecution's case was that Mary McCarthy was murdered on the evening of the 20th November 1940. Mr. Gleeson did not have an alibi for portions of the evening of the 20th November. Mr. Murphy considered that the medical evidence at the trial did not show beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder occurred on the evening of the 20th November but rather it was highly probable that Ms. McCarthy was killed on the 21st November. Mr. Gleeson had an alibi for the 21st November and witness evidence as to Mr. Gleeson's whereabouts on the morning of the 21st would have raised a reasonable doubt as to his guilt.
• A failure by the prosecution to comply with the prosecutorial obligation to assure a fair trial to the accused by taking a decision not to call Mr. and Mrs. Ceasar, the accused's uncle and aunt, to give evidence at the trial. The Ceasars, in whose home Mr. Gleeson lived, were material witnesses in relation to a number of issues in the trial. The Garda file suggests that the Ceasars were considered by the Gardaí to be truthful witnesses but that it was considered preferable that they would be called by the defence, thereby allowing the prosecution to cross-examine them and in so doing, to gain a tactical advantage. The Ceasars did not give evidence at the trial. This fact attracted judicial comment at the latter stages of the trial in a manner which was prejudicial to the accused.
• The apparent non-disclosure to the defence or to the Court and Jury of a Garda statement pertaining to a confrontation which allegedly occurred at the McCarthy’s farm during the Garda investigation between Mr. Gleeson and two of the McCarthy children, which statement, if it had been disclosed to the defence, would have suggested that the confrontation was an artificial construct instigated and staged by the Gardaí, in a manner calculated to unfairly prejudice the accused in the eyes of the jury. The prosecution introduced evidence from a Garda witness in relation to this confrontation which had not been given by the children in their testimony at the trial. The Garda witness evidence did not disclose to the court at trial the true picture of how the confrontation had occurred, and in particular, did not reveal the details of contact by members of An Garda Síochána with two of the children prior to the confrontation, contact which might have prompted the defence to explore whether these witnesses had been coached.
• The failure by the prosecution to introduce evidence in relation to the shotgun register held by the shopkeeper who sold Mr. Ceasar his ammunition. The shotgun register tended not to support the prosecution's case that Mr. Ceasar had, in October 1940, purchased ammunition of a calibre consistent with the type of ammunition used to murder Mary McCarthy. This was material which ought to have been available to the jury.
More generally, Mr. Murphy concludes that, in his opinion, Mr. Gleeson was convicted and executed as a result of a case based on unconvincing circumstantial evidence.
Having considered Mr. Murphy's opinion, the Attorney General has advised the Government that the deficiencies in the conviction warrant the Government recommending to the President that he exercise his right of pardon. The Government has accepted that advice.
The Government deeply regrets that a man was convicted and executed in circumstances now found to be unsafe. All that can be done now by way of remedy is to clear his name of the conviction, which this pardon will do, in the hope that this will be a proper tribute to his memory.
Equally the Government regrets that this decision leaves unresolved the brutal murder of Ms. Mary McCarthy, whose children were deprived of their mother in terrible circumstances.
The Government wishes to express its sympathy with both families and with all those affected by this crime and the subsequent conviction.
Note for Editors
Mr. Gleeson was a single man living in Marlhill, Co. Tipperary. He lived and worked on the farm of his uncle, John Ceasar, and Mr. Ceasar's wife, Brigid. Ms. McCarthy was a single woman living in a nearby house with her children. On 21 November 1940, Mr. Gleeson reported to the Gardaí at New Inn, Co. Tipperary that he had seen the body of a woman lying in a field near where he lived. Upon investigation by the Gardaí the body was found to be that of Ms. McCarthy who had been shot twice, with one of the shots having gravely disfigured her face. Ms. McCarthy had last been seen on the evening of 20 November.
Mr. Gleeson was prosecuted for Ms. McCarthy's murder and convicted in the Central Criminal Court on 27 February 1941. Mr. Gleeson strongly denied the accusation. The Court of Criminal Appeal refused leave to appeal to Mr. Gleeson and a petition to the Government for his reprieve was turned down. He was executed in Mountjoy Prison on 23 April 1941.