11 Aug 2022

Man found killed in Irish woods met a gruesome death, court told

Man found killed in Irish woods met a gruesome death, court told

The late Philip Finnegan

The decapitated body of a 24-year-old man was found buried in a shallow grave in a Kildare woods, a prosecution barrister has told a murder trial.

Brendan Grehan SC, for the State, also told the Central Criminal Court jury on Wednesday that attempts had been made to cut up and burn Philip Finnegan's body, who had been missing for almost a month and he had met a "gruesome death". 

Significantly, the barrister said, the jury will hear evidence that a bloodied glove was found in the woods which was a DNA match to the accused man Stephen Penrose.

On the opening day of the trial, Mr Justice Alexander Owens told the jury of eight men and four women that the accused Mr Penrose had dispensed with the services of his legal team, which he was entitled to do, and they should not draw any inference from that. 

Any person who comes before the court is fully entitled to represent themselves, the judge explained, and they can participate fully in proceedings without the necessity to engage legal representation. 

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

In his opening address, Mr Grehan said that the accused had lived in various places on the north side of the city and also in Clonuff in west Kildare near Broadford, which was significant "in terms of the evidence".

Counsel said the court will hear evidence that Mr Finnegan was murdered on August 10 but his remains were not found and identified until three weeks later in a rural area of Rahin Woods on the western border of Co Kildare. 

Referring to the deceased Mr Finnegan, Mr Grehan said he lived in Mary Aikenhead House, on James's Street in Dublin 8 and was the father of three children. "He had certain difficulties or troubles in the past and had ongoing concerns in recent times and had taken to wearing a protective vest," he said. The court heard that Mr Finnegan had recently befriended the accused Mr Penrose. 

On the day of the killing, Mr Grehan said that Mr Finnegan left his home and told his mother Angela Finnegan, who will be a witness in the trial, that he was going to meet Mr Penrose. The accused was someone that Mrs Finnegan had met, he continued. 

At 4.40pm that day, Mrs Finnegan tried to telephone her son Philip but his phone was off. "The prosecution considers this is significant in terms of the times you ultimately will have to consider of when he may have died," said counsel. The following day Mrs Finnegan went to gardai at Kilmainham Garda Station to report that she had not been able to contact her son, that his phone was off and that he was missing. 

Mrs Finnegan, counsel said, had told gardai that her son had arranged to meet his friend Mr Penrose. Gardai found out through the mobile phone operator that Mr Finnegan's phone was last used in Edenderry in Co Offaly, which is directly south of Rahin Woods.

Later, Mr Grehan said, gardai discovered that Mr Penrose had an interaction with Garda PJ Cummins on August 10 at a fast-food restaurant in Kilcock in Co Kildare, where the accused had sought medical assistance for an injury to his left wrist, which was bleeding quite profusely. Mr Penrose declined to give any explanation to the garda as to how his injury came about and did not make a complaint about being assaulted. 

Not unnaturally, Mr Grehan said, the gardai who were dealing with the missing person inquiry for Mr Finnegan decided to follow up with the accused man. Three gardai visited Mr Penrose in hospital and the accused had "certain things" to say to them which the jury will hear about, he said. The conversation ended with Mr Penrose indicating that he would only speak to Detective Sergeant Aiden Hannon and the pair spoke to each other on August 12, 2016.

Detailing the evidence that will be heard, Mr Grehan said that Mr Penrose told the detective that he had been with Mr Finnegan on August 10 and they had travelled to a location near Kilcock. "He declined to elaborate further on the location or where exactly it was other than to say it was on the way into Kilcock from Enfield, quite a considerable distance away from Rahin Woods," he said.

The prosecution barrister went on to tell the court that Mr Penrose said he and Mr Finnegan had met a number of men in a vehicle that day, they had pulled up behind the car and Mr Finnegan walked over to the person whom he had arranged to meet. Mr Penrose said a man known to him then stabbed him through the driver's window of the car. "Mr Penrose said he then immediately drove away and he saw men beating Mr Finnegan and one of the men involved was a Traveller," said Mr Grehan.

Counsel said the prosecution's contention is that this was the first of many accounts given by Mr Penrose to gardai and was untrue. "He did it to distance himself and put gardai off the scent of Rahin Woods. He referred to a location in Kilcock, nowhere near Rahin Woods so gardai would not go off in a particular location," he said. 

A lot of CCTV footage was harvested from various locations, Mr Grehan said, and gardai were able to find that the accused had driven to a fast-food restaurant in a distinctive blue Alfa Romeo car. Its bonnet had been replaced in a much darker blue than the rest of the car, making it easier to follow on CCTV footage, the court heard. 

Mr Penrose was arrested by gardai on August 31 and gave accounts of the "story" that he and Mr Finnegan had "ran foul" of this group of men. However, the barrister said the location was problematic, in terms of where Mr Penrose said the incident had happened.

Mr Grehan said the jury will hear that on September 2, the day Mr Penrose was due to be released from custody, a man was out walking his dog in Rahin Woods and alerted gardai after his dog found human remains. "Such was the state of the decomposition, there was a query as to whether it was anything to do with the case at all," he said. It was established through fingerprints and DNA that the remains were that of Mr Finnegan, the court heard. 

Pathologist Dr Margot Bolster will give evidence that Mr Finnegan's death was caused by multiple stab wounds to the body, the jury heard. 

Outlining the details of the deceased’s death, Mr Grehan said it was a difficult enough conclusion to make as the body had been decapitated and attempts were made to cut it up. "The body had also been burned before being buried in a shallow grave, which was a drain and covered over with various materials," he added. 

In that general location, counsel said, there were the remains of a shovel, a garden fork, a large knife, burned out remains of a phone and the nozzle part of a petrol can. "Also, significantly a glove was found and the blood on that glove was a DNA match to the accused Mr Penrose," he said. At that stage gardai had various accounts from the accused which did not match what was ultimately found at the scene, said Mr Grehan.

Mr Penrose was rearrested on November 16, 2016, and gave gardai a handwritten statement. "At first he said he had nothing to do with Mr Finnegan's killing and maintained they were both attacked and he was stabbed, nearly losing his arm and was lucky to escape with his life. Various details from his earlier accounts changed to suit the evidence the gardai now had at this particular stage," he said.

The jury heard that Mr Finnegan was last seen alive at a garage in Edenderry and Rahin Woods is only a few kilometres to the north of there. Mr Grehan said that the accused's car was next seen on CCTV footage an hour later at a point which was less than a ten-minute drive away from where Mr Finnegan was last seen at Edenderry. 

"The prosecution case is that in that hour, Mr Finnegan went into the woods with Mr Penrose and met his particularly gruesome death. Mr Penrose having left the scene, presented himself at various premises pretending to be a victim of an attack by some unidentified persons," he said.

The barrister further stated that the only logical conclusion that one can draw from Mr Penrose's DNA found on the glove is that the accused had murdered Mr Finnegan in Rahin Woods and sought to dispose of his body. The accused then told lie after lie to gardai to keep them from discovering the location of the body, he said. 

The trial continues tomorrow before Mr Justice Owens and the 12 jurors. It is expected to last between five and six weeks.

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