A Trinity law professor accused of murder has been granted bail of €100,000, with the Court of Appeal overturning a previous High Court decision.
President of the Court of Appeal Justice George Birmingham said that Diarmuid Rossa Phelan enjoys the presumption of innocence and a presumption in favour of bail. Justice Birmingham said that Phelan has ties to Ireland in the form of his position in Trinity, his status as a barrister, and the large amounts of property he holds here. The decision was announced on Friday (April 8).
Justice Birmingham also described Phelan as “a person of good standing in the community” who has never been convicted of an offence previously.
The conditions of Phelan’s bail include that he must surrender his US passport, and that he must not apply for a new US passport or any other travel document. He is also required to reside at an address approved by Gardaí, sign in daily to a Garda station, and abide by a 10pm to 8am curfew.
He must also provide a mobile phone number to Gardaí, keep the phone on his person and stay away from Tallaght. He is not allowed to purchase any firearms, and his existing firearms have been confiscated.
On Thursday (April 7), Justice Birmingham said that Phelan had left the High Court “totally in the dark” about his financial situation when applying for bail. “I don’t believe the bail application before the High Court was presented in a way that the High Court would have expected”.
Phelan was asked to provide a comprehensive account of his finances and assets to the Court of Appeal. The prosecution had asked the Court of Appeal to adjourn the hearing until after Easter (April 17), so that it would have time to review the financial documents. The defence opposed the motion.
Phelan’s barrister said that his client had procured €50,000 from his sisters to help finance his bail, and that “were he to flee, which he has no intention of doing, that would be a deep betrayal of his family”.
Justice Birmingham concurred, saying that when a defendant receives money from family members, it “usually presents itself as an argument in favour of the applicant as it would provide an incentive to remain [in Ireland]”.
A Fellow of Trinity and a member of the College Board, Phelan is accused of murdering 36 year-old local man Keith Conlon who was fatally shot in Tallaght in February.
Phelan’s initial request for bail was denied after he was found to be a “serious flight risk” by Justice Deidre Murphy. Phelan appealed this decision, and it was considered last week.
Justice Murphy said that the full extent of Phelan’s assets was not known at the time of the original application. The professor submitted three different addresses in south Dublin. Murphy also noted that Phelan has a “powerful incentive to evade justice” based on the seriousness of the charge, the strength of the evidence, the likely sentence in the event of a conviction and alleged ongoing threats to the accused.
Phelan’s lawyers argued that the academic’s life would be “completely and utterly ruined” if bail were not granted, and his “life’s work [would be] wiped out”.
On February 22, an altercation occurred on farmland owned by Phelan near Tallaght village, in which Conlon was shot in the head. Conlon was admitted to hospital, and passed away after two days in critical condition.
Last month, the High Court heard that witnesses reported seeing Phelan shoot the unarmed Conlon in the back of the head as he turned away from the altercation. A dog was also shot during the incident with a licensed rifle, the prosecution said.
Phelan admits to shooting Conlon, but claims that he was under threat at the time. He has also claimed that the shooting was an accident, where he had crossed the gun over from left to right in an arc.
It is being alleged by prosecutors that Phelan deliberately shot Conlon. A witness claims that Phelan fired three shots with the final one hitting Conlon in the back of the head. A licensed revolver was recovered from the scene of the shooting by Gardaí.
Phelan owns 10 licenced firearms and was described in previous court proceedings as having “extensive experience” with the handling of weapons.
Phelan is also a fellow of the European Law Institute. He is currently an associate professor of law.
College has declined to comment on the charges.