A who denies murdering Garda Colm Horkan but admits to his manslaughter told gardaí that the deceased tried to attack him and that he shot him given “all that’s going on with the police in this world”.
Opening the trial of Stephen Silver, prosecution counsel James Dwyer SC said the accused then mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement, which counsel suggested may have been a reference to the murder of George Floyd in the US.
Mr Dwyer also told the jury of six men and six women that an issue they may have to consider is whether Mr Silver was “ill-disposed towards gardaí” and whether that “manifested itself in his behaviour on the day he killed” Garda Horkan.
Mr Silver (46), a motorbike mechanic from Aughavard, Foxford, Co Mayo, has pleaded not guilty to the capital murder of Garda Horkan (49) knowing or being reckless as to whether he was a member of An Garda Síochána acting in accordance with his duty at Castlerea, Co Roscommon on June 17th, 2020.
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He has pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The jury heard when they were being sworn in on Monday that the defence will raise Mr Silver’s bipolar disorder and his diminished responsibility due to mental health difficulties.
Opening the prosecution’s case on Tuesday, Mr Dwyer said the State takes a view on the evidence that Mr Silver is guilty of the crime of capital murder. Outlining the facts of the case, the barrister said Garda Horkan was a single man who lived with his father in Charlestown, Co Mayo and had spent almost 25 years in the force.
At the time of his death, counsel said, Garda Horkan had not been formally appointed as a detective but had been approved by a superintendent to carry out detective duties. He had also been authorised to carry firearms and given permission to wear plain clothes when on duty.
Mr Silver, he said, grew up on the outskirts of Castlerea, left school after his Junior Certificate, worked as a fitness instructor for a number of years and then set up his own business as a motorcycle mechanic in Foxford. The accused was married but had been separated three months before the death of Garda Horkan.
The lawyer said the evidence will be that the accused had a history of mental health difficulties and a confirmed diagnosis of bipolar disorder. He also had a number of hospital admissions mainly as a younger man. A number of days before the killing, counsel said, Mr Silver was in the company of an Australian woman who was visiting Ireland and had stayed in the Carlton Hotel Dublin Airport between June 15th to 17th.
The woman was flying out of Ireland on June 17th and Mr Silver left Dublin that morning. Detailing the evidence that will be heard, Mr Dwyer said the accused travelled in a van to Castlerea, arriving there in the early afternoon.
Mr Silver spoke to a friend at a train station, who showed him videos on Facebook of a garda raid earlier that month on the home of another of the accused’s friends, James Coyne.
There will be evidence, Mr Dwyer said, that Mr Silver became annoyed and went to the Knockroe estate in Castlerea to call on Mr Coyne, someone he had not met for many years. Mr Silver and Mr Coyne decided to travel together in the accused’s silver van to his garage in Foxford.
En route to Foxford, Mr Silver stopped the van at Castlerea Garda station and got out of the vehicle and went into the public office to make a complaint to gardaí about an elderly person being abused by gardaí. The accused told officers he had evidence on his phone and would be taking it further.
The court will also hear evidence, the lawyer said, that Mr Silver and Mr Coyne then went to the accused’s garage where Mr Coyne tried out a motorcycle. The accused told Mr Coyne: “You’re a natural, you can have it.” The pair returned to Castlerea at 10.30pm that evening.
The prosecution barrister went on to tell the court that the accused’s van pulled up at the forecourt of Castlerea Garda station on their way back and turned around before returning to Mr Coyne’s home. When they got to the house, the men took out the motorcycle and took turns riding around a green area in the estate with no lights and no helmets.
Mr Dwyer also indicated to the jury that some of the neighbours called gardaí and one neighbour recalled that he heard someone who answered the description of Mr Silver shouting: “I dare the armed squad to come down here now.”
The men left the estate on foot at around midnight heading towards the centre of town to buy food. Mr Silver wanted to take the route past the Garda station but instead went along Patrick Street towards the junction with Main Street.
The barrister said that Garda Horkan had taken up duty that afternoon at 2pm, had his own garda issued firearm on him and was driving an unmarked Hyundai patrol car. He said a neighbour had seen a car matching that description entering the Knockroe estate just before midnight, around the same time the two men left on foot.
Counsel said the court will hear that as the men came into the centre of Castlerea at the corner of Patrick Street and Main Street, Garda Horkan pulled up beside them and appeared to roll down the passenger window. Mr Silver spoke to him at the window of the vehicle.
The barrister further stated that there would be a number of accounts from various eye witnesses including Mr Coyne about what happened afterwards. Some form of exchange took place between Mr Silver and Garda Horkan with the officer getting out of the unmarked car and approaching the accused.
According to Mr Coyne, Garda Horkan told Mr Silver he was arresting him and a physical struggle began between them, which evolved into a struggle for the garda’s firearm.
There will be evidence that a shot from the gun was discharged and Garda Horkan was wounded. Mr Silver rolled away with the gun and proceeded to shoot the officer repeatedly. Fifteen cartridges were found at the scene and the gun was emptied.
Mr Dwyer said two other gardaí arrived at the scene in a marked patrol car having left the Knockroe estate. They were the first gardaí on the scene and had heard the shots as they drove past before turning around and blocking the road.
One of the gardaí approached Mr Silver, saw him throw the gun away and told him to lie face down.
Mr Silver told gardaí: “That man tried to attack me and with all that’s going on with the police in the world, I shot him.”
Mr Dwyer said the accused then mentioned Black Lives Matter. Mr Silver was arrested and taken to Castlerea Garda station.
A garda at the scene performed CPR on Garda Horkan and was assisted by colleagues but it was quickly apparent that he had sustained fatal injuries. He died at the scene.
The officer’s remains were removed to Mayo General Hospital early the following morning, where a postmortem was carried out by Dr Linda Mulligan. Some 11 gunshots were found to have been fired from multiple angles. There were three entry wounds to the deceased’s back. One of the wounds was a close contact wound and the majority of shots came from a distance of greater than one metre, said Mr Dwyer.
The court will also hear, the barrister indicated, that some of the exit wounds from the bullets had a short appearance suggesting Garda Horkan was on the ground when he was shot. The cumulative effect of the gunshot wounds, he said, resulted in Garda Horkan receiving massive internal injuries and multiple fractures. Dr Mulligan will give evidence that the garda suffered catastrophic injuries that were non-survivable, he said.
There will be further evidence that Garda Horkan had blunt force trauma to his left eye and left temple, which had a similar configuration to the butt of the pistol and may have been caused by a blow with the butt of the gun.
Mr Silver was seen by a local GP shortly after being detained and later by a psychiatrist, who did not conduct a formal assessment of him but was satisfied on his observations that the accused was fit to be interviewed by gardaí.
Another part of the prosecution case will involve interviews with Mr Silver, which the jury will see and hear. In his first interview, the accused said: “Then this big blue car pulled up and this lad said, ‘who are you’. He said I’m a guard. He came up to me. I pushed him”. The accused said he had seen a Tommy Hilfiger jacket and that he did not know who he was.
Counsel said Mr Silver told gardaí he pushed Garda Horkan as he “was in my space”. Mr Silver continued: “A struggle ensued, I felt him going for something. The next thing he had it out, then bang, bang. I got the gun off him and I think I shot him.”
Mr Silver said he found out afterwards that Garda Horkan was dead, saying: “I’m angry about it as a garda tried to kill me, is that a garda car?”
Mr Dwyer said the accused is charged with capital murder and pointed out that the Oireachtas considered gardaí and prison officers as being deserving of special protection when acting in the course of their duty.
He said the State would have to prove Garda Horkan was acting in the course of his duty at the time, that the accused knew that and was at the least reckless at the time.
He added: “We say Garda Horkan died as a result of the actions of Mr Silver, we say those actions were unlawful in terms of the initial struggle and repeated shooting of him. We say Mr Silver had the intention to kill or cause serious injury at the time Garda Horkan died.”
Mr Dwyer said despite Mr Silver’s references to things like a Tommy Hilfiger jacket and an unmarked patrol car, it is the State’s case that the accused knew well that Garda Horkan was a member of An Garda Síochána at the time and a member on duty.
Mr Dwyer said the jury might have to consider whether Mr Silver was ill-disposed towards An Garda Síochána and whether this manifested itself in his behaviour on the day he killed the deceased.
He went on to say that the issue of diminished responsibility may arise in the case and that the jury would be assisted by forensic psychologists. “It is suggested that Mr Silver had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and that he was suffering from a relapse at the time he was shot and the defence say this substantially diminished his responsibility. We disagree and say Mr Silver had significant functioning mental capacity at the time he killed Garda Horkan,” said Mr Dwyer.
In summary, counsel said the accused must prove that defence on the balance of probabilities if the State proves there was an unlawful killing.
The accused’s barrister, Dominic McGinn SC, made a series of admissions on his behalf. These included that Garda Horkan died on the Main Street in Castlerea as a result of being shot a number of times and that his client was responsible for the shooting. He said the main issue in the case would be the state of mind of Mr Silver at the time.
The trial continues before Ms Justice Tara Burns and a jury of six men and six women. It is expected to last six weeks.