Alan Cawley pictured in 2013.

Mayo man loses appeal over Castlebar double murder conviction

A 32-year-old man who was sentenced in July 2017 to life in prison for the double murder of two elderly brothers with special needs in their Mayo home has been unsuccessful in an appeal lodged with the Court of Appeal.

Alan Cawley of Four Winds, Corrinbla, Ballina, had admitted killing Thomas Blaine (69) and John (Jack) Blaine (76), but pleaded not guilty to their murder at their home at New Antrim Street in Castlebar on July 10, 2013.

He bludgeoned them with a shovel and one of their walking sticks.

The defence argued at his trial that Cawley had three mental disorders which diminished his responsibility for the attacks and that he should have been found guilty of manslaughter.

However, he was unanimously found guilty of murder by a jury after an hour and 42 minutes of deliberations and was given the mandatory life sentence by Mr Justice Paul Coffey on July 25, 2017.

Cawley unsuccessfully sought to appeal his conviction on grounds that the trial judge erred in his instructions to the jury on the issue of intoxication.

Counsel for Cawley, Ms. Caroline Biggs SC, said the trial judge told the jury that they had to "subtract" intoxication and had to consider what Cawley would have done without intoxication, in the context of a purported mental disorder.

She submitted to the Court of Appeal that the jury might have thought they had to exclude intoxication before considering diminished responsibility.

She said the two could run together or be live considerations at the same time.

Dismissing his appeal today, Mr. Justice Patrick McCarthy said there was no basis for saying that intoxication and a mental disorder - "if there was one" - could have both played a part in causing Cawley to behave as he did.

Mr. Justice McCarthy said a trial judge's instructions to a jury is an "exercise in communication" and "the simpler… the better.

He stated: "The core issue in cases of this kind is whether or not, if a mental disorder exists, it substantially diminishes the accused's responsibility.

"This is what the jury were told in the clearest terms, using a form of words calculated to exclude alcohol from consideration in the sense that intoxication was excluded as a mental disorder."

"What more was to be said?" the judge asked, adding that there was no reason to think the jury were confused by the introduction of intoxication into the case.

Mr Justice McCarthy, who sat with Ms Justice Máire Whelan and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, said there were no errors in the judge's instructions and the appeal was therefore dismissed.