A man has been convicted by the non-jury Special Criminal Court of murdering the manager of the Sunset House pub in Dublin more than four years ago.
Liverpool native David Hunter (41), with an address at Du Cane Road, White City, London, had denied the murder of 35-year-old Michael Barr at the Sunset House pub in Dublin’s north inner city on the night of April 25th, 2016.
Presiding judge Mr Justice Alexander Owens said on Friday that the evidence had been heard in a “compelling way” that Hunter was one of the two gunmen who entered the Summerhill pub and murdered Barr by shooting him. Hunter’s involvement in the murder had been “fully proved” and the three-judge court was “sure of his guilt”, the judge remarked.
The judge noted that the major part of a DNA profile taken from a ski-mask recovered during the investigation into the shooting of Mr Barr matched and verified the profile of Hunter. The circumstantial evidence in the case “pointed inextricably” to Hunter’s guilt, and the facts taken together had established his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and no other rational explanation could be drawn, indicated the judge.
Mr Justice Owens said the court rejected Hunter’s explanation for his whereabouts on the night in question and found it “implausible”, with part of it being contradicted by other evidence. He also said a whole story about how Hunter came to lose the ski-mask “did not have a ring of truth about it”, and there was no doubt that the mask was intended for use either at the murder or in the getaway car.
In a voluntary statement to gardaí, Hunter had said that the ski-mask was his but that he had dropped it in a car driven by another man when he visited Ireland two months before the murder on a car-stealing exercise.
Hunter claimed he had used the mask on various ski trips with his children to Norway, France, Spain, Scotland, Austria and Switzerland. A number of holiday photos of Hunter in a ski-mask were handed into court during the trial.
The judge said on Friday that it was not a “credible explanation” that the ski-mask had been left behind by him on a previous trip to Dublin.
Hunter is the second man to be found guilty of murdering Mr Barr. In January 2018, Eamonn Cumberton (32), of Mountjoy Street, Dublin 7, was also convicted of murdering the Tyrone native.
Barr was shot seven times after two armed men wearing boiler suits and full rubber masks over their faces entered the Sunset House pub at about 9pm on the date in question. He was shot fives times in the head, once in the leg and once in the shoulder. The then deputy State pathologist Dr Michael Curtis found that the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds.
During Hunter’s five-week trial, which ended in July, evidence was given that at about 9.20pm at Walsh Road in Drumcondra on the date in question, a silver Audi A6 was seen to arrive and that three occupants got out and set the car alight. The three men then got into what was described as a “possibly silver” Ford Mondeo and left the scene. The Audi A6 vehicle was subsequently examined and cocked and loaded weapons, ready for use, were discovered. Boiler suits, two ski-masks and two rubber masks were also found in the rear seat. A phone, which had a number of missed calls, was found next to a bullet on the grass nearby.
During the trial, Dr Edward Connolly of Forensic Science Ireland testified that mixed DNA profiles had been found on two masks – one rubber and one ski – taken from the Audi by gardaí. The expert witness said that he found a mixed DNA profile on a ski-mask with four elements: one major, two minor and one trace. The “major contributor” of the ski-mask’s DNA profile formed 61 per cent of the mixed profile, he said.
DNA samples from an apple core and a cigarette butt discarded by Hunter in the course of his extradition from the UK and his processing in Ireland on October 16th, 2019, were also cross-referenced by Dr Connolly. The witness testified that the odds on the profile created by the cigarette butt and the apple core being of “an individual unrelated to the DNA on the ski-mask were a thousand-million to one”.
Closing the prosecution case in July, prosecuting counsel Dominic McGinn SC, with Ronan Kennedy SC, said Hunter would have to be an “extremely unlucky” man if he was not involved in the killing. He argued that “there could be no reasonable doubt” of Hunter’s involvement, unless the court was to believe that he had been “extremely unlucky with all of these coincidences” that had been offered in his defence.
Mr McGinn also said that ballistics could match the guns used in the murder to those found in the Audi A6 shortly after the shooting.
Defence counsel Roisin Lacey SC said in her closing address that her client was “no James Bond, or Ethan Hunt”, and was instead a “two-bit car thief”. Ms Lacey pointed out that Hunter, who claimed he had come to Ireland to see a concert and said he was with two women in a Dublin hotel about the time of the shooting, could not “logically” have been the gunman. The barrister stressed that her client was not in the Sunset House pub and not in the vehicles used on the night and that he did not shoot anyone.
Mr Justice Owens will hand down the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment on November 2nd and remanded Hunter in custody until that date. He adjourned sentencing after Ms Lacey asked for time to read the victim impact statements which will be submitted to the court.