A 33-year-old man who stabbed a man in his own home in self-defence because he believed his life was in danger has been acquitted of murder by a jury at the Central Criminal Court.
The jury of nine men and three women returned their majority verdict to Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring this afternoon.
Jurors agreed with the defence case that Matusz Batiuk was entitled to defend himself when he came under attack in his own home.
They had deliberated for a total of nine hours and 54 minutes over three days.
Mr Batiuk had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Michael McDonagh, 24, at a housing estate in Swinford on 16 November 2020.
Ms Justice Ring thanked the jury for their service in what she described as a very difficult trial and excused the panel from jury service for a period of ten years.
Fifteen minutes prior to returning their verdict, Ms Justice Ellen Ring told the panel that if ten or 11 of them were in agreement in the case, then she was in a position to receive a majority verdict in those circumstances.
Members of Mr McDonagh's family cried and expressed their shock and upset after the verdict was delivered.
Accused claimed he acted in self-defence
Mr Batiuk had never wavered in his position.
The first detective on the scene who arrested him in his home told the trial that when cautioned the accused replied: "I stabbed him. I done it in self-defence."
Over the course of four interviews with gardai, Mr Batiuk told officers that he did not want to kill anyone.
He added: "I was very frightened and I thought he was going to kill me. I was defending myself, but I could die too, I didn't want to die."
It was the State's case that Mr Batiuk, a Polish national who lived at the Carrabeg Estate in Swinford, intended to commit murder when he reached for the knife and "plunged" it into Mr McDonagh’s stomach.
The defence, however, said that Mr Batiuk had felt threatened by Mr McDonagh and feared for his life, and he inflicted the single stab wound in self-defence.
The accused had told a psychiatrist that he felt bullied by 24-year-old Mr McDonagh, who was a physically bigger man than he was.
Paul Maughan, who was the key witness in the case, gave evidence that he and Mr McDonagh had been drinking on 16 November before they went to the accused’s home, where he and Mr McDonagh continued their session.
He said that Mr McDonagh had a bottle of vodka and a bottle of Lucozade with him and was "a little bit drunk". The jury heard that Mr Batiuk did not drink with them.
Mr Maughan said that after this "me and Michael got two bottles of wine" from a Chinese takeaway, confirming to prosecuting counsel Desmond Dockery that they did not pay for the wine.
Defence counsel Vincent Heneghan put to Mr Maughan a statement made by a woman working in the Chinese takeaway, from which the two bottles of wine were stolen.
The woman said that Mr Maughan was "in worse shape, maybe drunk", while Mr McDonagh seemed fine.
She said that the two got angry and took wine from a stand, to which she informed them she was going to call the gardaí.
At this point, she said Mr McDonagh started to threaten her. She told gardaí that Mr McDonagh said he knew who she was and would "slice" her.
She said that Mr McDonagh said "look at me", while pointing to a scar over his eye.
Mr Maughan said he did not remember this. He also said he did not remember Mr McDonagh threatening the woman by saying he had a weapon.
Witness had injuries to his hand
The jury heard from Sergeant Thomas McIntyre that Mr Maughan made a short statement to gardaí, in which he claimed that on the night: "Matthew went for Michael and then he went for me.
"He had a knife in his right hand. I pushed him away but got my thumbs cut by him. He went for Michael with the knife; he got him down and tried to do him; stab him."
"He used terms like 'he put Michael down with the knife and tried to do him’, and 'he went for Michael before he went for him’. He was definitely under the influence of some intoxicant," said Sgt McIntyre.
The jury heard evidence from Dr Blaise Brunker GP, who confirmed to Mr Dockery that he examined Mr Maughan at Swinford Garda Station and noted a laceration on each of Mr Maughan’s thumbs.
He said that Mr Maughan told him the wounds had been caused by a knife and he had been defending himself.
The doctor told Mr Dockery that it was his opinion that the lacerations on Mr Maughan’s thumbs were caused by a knife.
However, in the witness box during the trial, Mr Maughan claimed that the injuries to his hands were caused when he broke a wine bottle and that he in fact did not witness the fatal stabbing.
Mr Maughan, a resident of Newpark, Swinford, Co Mayo, also gave evidence that Mr McDonagh had a carpet knife with him when they went to Mr Batiuk’s house on the day of the stabbing.
In his evidence to the trial, Mr Maughan said they went back to the accused’s house, where he was unable to open one of the wine bottles.
"I was trying to put my fingers down onto the cork and the bottle broke, so I got two cuts on my hand," said Mr Maughan.
Mr Dockery asked him whether he had anything sharp in his hand, to which the witness replied that he had a knife.
"I was using the knife to put down the cork," he said. The witness went on to say that Mr McDonagh also had a knife.
"It was a carpet knife. He showed it to me at my home and put it into his pocket," said Mr Maughan.
"I went into the bathroom to wash the blood off my hands and when I came out, Matusz was at the door.
"He said, ‘Go home', and I said, 'I’m not going without Michael'. The kitchen door was shut. Matusz made a call to the guards outside the front door and the guards came then," said Mr Maughan.
Witness attacked accused a year after stabbing
Mr Dockery asked when it was he had realised what had happened to Mr McDonagh, to which Mr Maughan replied: "The next day."
"Did you see Matusz stabbing Michael?" asked Mr Dockery. "No," he replied.
Mr Heneghan asked Mr Maughan if he recalled a conversation that took place in the house in which he was angry with Mr Batiuk because he accused him of sleeping with Mr Maughan’s sister.
"You were angry and threatening to Mr Batiuk," said defence counsel.
"No, that didn’t happen," replied Mr Maughan.
Defence counsel said that Mr Batiuk had made a call to gardaí looking for assistance on the night, as he said that Mr Maughan was fighting with him. Mr Maughan denied he had fought with Mr Batiuk.
Mr Heneghan asked Mr Maughan if Mr Batiuk had any reason to fear Mr Maughan, to which the witness replied he did not.
"You’re now serving a prison sentence – what for?" asked Mr Heneghan.
"For stabbing Matusz," replied Mr Maughan.
The witness confirmed that he broke into Mr Batiuk’s house in August 2020 and stabbed him in the side.
He said that he stabbed him twice with a butter knife and then picked up another knife and stabbed him in the ribs.
"He wouldn’t let you in and you broke in and stabbed him. Do you still maintain he has no reason to fear you?" asked defence.
"Yeah," replied the witness.
'I stabbed him in the stomach'
In a statement to gardaí, Mr Batiuk said that Mr McDonagh and Mr Maughan had accused him of sleeping with Mr Maughan’s sister.
He said the two men were shouting and "I was scared of them".
He claimed Mr McDonagh then said to Mr Maughan: "If you want me to, I’ll hurt him for you."
Mr Batiuk told gardaí Mr Maughan replied: "Hurt him."
Under cross-examination by Mr Batiuk's defence counsel however, Mr Maughan denied he ever said this.
In his garda interviews, Mr Batiuk said Mr McDonagh had followed him into the kitchen and was hitting his hand into his fist "in a threatening manner".
"I was very frightened and I thought he was going to kill me," Mr Batiuk said.
He said he saw a knife and picked it up as Mr McDonagh kept coming forward towards him. The accused said he was sure Mr McDonagh was going to kill him.
He said he told him to stop and then "I stabbed him in the stomach to keep him from killing me".
Mr Batiuk said Mr McDonagh kept coming "closer, closer, closer". The accused said he stabbed him "only once" in the stomach.
"I didn’t try to kill him. I tried to hurt him and go home, to stop him," he said.
A pathologist in the trial told the jury that there was no way to determine the force used in the single stab wound, saying it was "unfortunate" that the knife severed a vital artery causing death.
Dr Kathleen Han Suyin gave evidence that someone "could have walked in" to a knife held by another, which would result in a stab wound of at least 12cm.
However, she also said that such a wound could be caused by someone exerting force when stabbing.
Dr Han Suyin, who conducted the post-mortem on Mr McDonagh, said the knife entered the fascia of the abdominal muscle and severed the right common iliac artery, which carries blood to the pelvic region and legs.
The artery is towards the back of the body, and the witness said that the depth of the wound was at least 12cm.
Dr Han Suyin said the wound caused extensive acute and rapid blood loss, which was not possible to survive.
Court hears of accused's mental illness
During the trial, forensic psychiatrist Dr Jamie Walsh told Mr Dockery that Mr Batiuk has paranoid schizophrenia, which was likely active at the time he stabbed Mr McDonagh.
He referred to one of the accused’s interviews with gardaí, in which Mr Batiuk said that Mr McDonagh and Mr Maughan "acted like Gestapo".
"I see them, I feel them, they tried to kill me. I have feeling they try to do something, like a signal, a signal in my head. Everybody have signal in their head," Mr Batiuk said in an interview with gardaí.
Dr Walsh confirmed to Mr Dockery that the accused’s mental disorder at the time of the stabbing was likely to have resulted in a paranoid state.
Testifying for the defence, Dr Stephen Monks said that the evidence strongly suggested Mr Batiuk was psychotic and experiencing persecutory delusions in the weeks leading up to the incident.
Dr Monks told Mr Heneghan it was his opinion that Mr Batiuk had ongoing fluctuating paranoid symptoms before, during and after the stabbing and displayed the "obvious signs of an active psychotic illness".
He said that the accused's mother had described her son as "a ticking time bomb" around the time of the stabbing.
Both experts said it was appropriate for the jury to consider whether Mr Batiuk’s responsibility was diminished at the time of the stabbing.
Victim was 'much-loved family member'
In the closing statement for the prosecution, Mr Dockery said that when Mr Batiuk took a knife and plunged it into Mr McDonagh, he did so with the intent of murder.
He said Mr McDonagh was a much-loved family member whose life had been "snuffed out" by Mr Batiuk’s knife that evening.
In the closing statement for the prosecution, Mr Heneghan said that his client acted in self-defence when he stabbed Mr McDonagh.
He said that a 999 call made by the accused before the stabbing showed that Mr Batiuk was looking for assistance from gardaí to get people out of his house.
"You don’t phone the guards expecting them to come and then go out and kill someone. This goes to my client’s state of mind," counsel said.
"I submit to you that a single stab wound, defending yourself from someone who is in your house, that you don’t want in your house and who is with someone who has stabbed you before, is reasonable force."
In her charge to the jury, Ms Justice Ring told them of the verdicts open to them.
She explained that if they were satisfied that Mr Batiuk had the intention to kill or cause serious injury and it was proved beyond reasonable doubt that it was not self-defence, the verdict would be guilty of murder.
She said the verdict would be not guilty of murder, if the prosecution had failed to prove he was not acting in self-defence and the jury felt he honestly believed it was self-defence and the level of force was reasonable.
Ms Justice Ring said that the verdict should be not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter if the jury felt it was unproven that he was not acting in self-defence and he subjectively believed that it was necessary to use force, but the force was not objectively reasonable and was excessive.
She said the verdict should be guilty of manslaughter if the jury were not satisfied that the intention to kill or cause serious injury was there, but Mr Batiuk assaulted Mr McDonagh in a manner that led to his death.
The final verdict the jury could consider, said the judge, was not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.