After two trials at the Central Criminal Court, a jury has found Stephen Silver, who shot Garda Colm Horkan 11 times with his own gun, guilty of capital murder.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for a total of eight hours and 39 minutes before returning their verdict on Wednesday to Ms Justice Tara Burns.
Silver, who made no reaction to the verdict, now faces the mandatory minimum sentence of 40 years in prison having been convicted of capital murder.
In November last year, a jury of seven men and five women spent just under nine hours considering their verdicts over three days before revealing that they had a disagreement that they were not able to resolve. That jury had been given the option of returning a majority verdict.
As the verdict was read out, there were emotional reactions from family members of both Gda Horkan’s and Silver’s who were present in court. A tearful member of Silver’s family said: “He’s sick, he’s a sick man.”
The trial heard that Garda Horkan was a well-regarded member of the force with 25 years’ service and no disciplinary issues on his record. The prosecution told the jury that Garda Horkan had no idea when he signed out his firearm on the afternoon of June 17th, 2020, that he would be shot dead with the same gun just nine hours later.
They maintained Silver had a “seething resentment” toward gardaí and that the shooting of Gda Horkan was “a deliberate action done with the intent of murder”.
Following the verdict, Ms Justice Burns thanked the jury for their diligence in what she described as an extremely difficult case involving a lot of legal issues.
“You sat and took all of those in and it is clear to me you listened to every piece of evidence,” she said.
Ms Justice Burns said it was not often that the courts have a case of this nature, nor was it often to have people who applied themselves so diligently to the case. She told the jury they were now exempt from jury service for the rest of their lives.
Silver (46), a motorbike mechanic from Aughaward, Foxford, Co Mayo, had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Det Garda Horkan knowing or being reckless as to whether he was a member of An Garda Siochana acting in accordance with his duty. He had pleaded guilty to manslaughter at Castlerea, Co Roscommon on June 17th, 2020, and the jury were told the main issue in the trial was Mr Silver’s state of mind at the time of the shooting.
During the trial, the jury heard evidence from Silver that he believed Gda Horkan was “a heavy down from Dublin” who was trying to kill him. He said that Gda Horkan was wearing a Tommy Hilfiger jacket and “didn’t come across” as a garda. He gave evidence that a struggle ensued between them before he fell to the ground, and in the process of getting up he felt the gun on Gda Horkan’s hip.
“He had his hand on the gun and I had my hand on the gun and we wrestled. The gun came out; I couldn’t tell you who took it out,” said Silver.
He said that he felt Gda Horkan “was trying to kill me”.
“I kept shooting until the gun finished and there was no ammunition left,” Silver said.
The jury also heard evidence from Dr Brenda Wright, interim clinical director at the Central Mental Hospital, who said it was her view that Silver’s illness at the time he killed Gda Horkan was such that it impaired his thinking and his judgement and therefore contributed significantly to his actions at that time.
However, witness for the prosecution, consultant psychiatrist Professor Harry Kennedy told the jury that he found “no positive evidence” that Silver had suffered a relapse of bipolar affective disorder at the time he shot dead Gda Horkan.
In the closing statement for the prosecution, Michael Delaney SC said that it had been established beyond reasonable doubt that Silver knew Gda Horkan was a garda acting in the course of his duty, and in taking the gun he attempted to kill or cause serious injury.
“He fired until the gun was empty. If there had been more bullets in the gun, would he have kept firing? How many bullets until he felt safe in his own mind?” asked Mr Delaney.
In the closing statement for the defence, Dominic McGinn SC said the shooting of Gda Horkan was “not a rational act” and there was no rational basis or motivation for what happened.
“Shooting a garda — that’s not intact social function,” he said, adding the natural conclusion from this was that Silver was in a relapse of his bipolar affective disorder at the time.
Before the jury began their deliberations on Monday, Ms Justice Burns told them that the possible verdicts they could consider related to capital murder, murder simpliciter, or manslaughter either because of diminished responsibility or self-defence. She said that a verdict of not guilty was not open to them in the case as Silver had entered a plea to the charge of manslaughter.
“To convict him of murder, you must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that he intended to kill or cause serious injury,” said Ms Justice Burns.
She said that it was not in dispute that Gda Horkan was a serving member of An Garda Siochana and was on duty that day, but it was disputed that he had been executing his duty when the unlawful act that caused his death occurred. She pointed out that the defence had questioned what Gda Hokan was doing in his interaction with Silver when he got out of an unmarked patrol car and whether he was acting lawfully.
The judge also said that an issue in the case was whether Silver knew he was a garda or was reckless of this fact.
Silver will now be sentenced on April 19.