A man who was wearing blood-stained clothes and carrying a knife when he walked into a garda station and admitted to stabbing a fisherman 40 times, has been found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter by a Central Criminal Court jury.
The panel of eight men and four women unanimously accepted the defence case that Darren Houlden had “lost control and snapped” when he stabbed Stephen ‘Apples’ Kavanagh in a “frenzied attack”. It was the defence contention that “fear” was at “the heart of the case” and the accused was not only afraid for “his own skin”, but that the victim had also threatened his family, which had “set him off”.
Defence counsel Brendan Grehan SC with Edmund Sweetman BL asked for a verdict of manslaughter on the basis of the partial defence of provocation, which can reduce an intentional killing from murder to manslaughter.
Mr Grehan said provocation was an act done by the deceased to an accused, which would cause a reasonable person “a sudden and temporary loss of self-control” that meant he was no longer master of his own mind and compel him to act in a way that he would not ordinarily act.
Evidence was given that Houlden drove to Arklow Garda Station covered in blood at around 00.35am on the morning of May 6th following a weekend of smoking crack cocaine and taking a medley of drugs with the victim and his girlfriend.
The accused handed a “bloodied knife” to the member-in-charge at the hatch of the public office and told him: “It’s my fault. I attacked him. It’s all on me.”
Houlden told gardaí in his interviews that Mr Kavanagh was angry when he discovered that his cocaine was missing and made a phone call to someone saying: “There is trouble down here, your stuff has been taken, get bodies down here.”
The accused told detectives that he begged Mr Kavanagh not to make a second phone call after the victim threatened him that “gangsters” would bring him to “the woods” and shoot him over the missing cocaine.
Whilst Mr Kavanagh was making the second call on the upstairs landing, Houlden said he was “like a lunatic” and “went into a rage” as he “went for” the deceased’s brain with the knife.
Mr Kavanagh’s girlfriend Rachel Kearney gave evidence that she saw the accused “slaughtering” and “overkilling” her boyfriend. The witness said that Houlden was on top of her partner and had his knees on his back as he stabbed the victim.
In his closing speech, prosecution counsel John Fitzgerald SC remarked that the missing cocaine was later found without any great difficulty by gardai in a bookcase in the accused’s bedroom, which the barrister said was very hard to reconcile with the “life and death situation” presented by the accused.
Houlden (44), with an address at The Crescent, Meadowvale, Arklow, Co Wicklow had pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to the manslaughter of Mr Kavanagh (37) at the same location in the early hours of May 6th, 2019. However, his plea was rejected by the State.
Ms Justice Stewart adjourned sentencing until February 1st and remanded Houlden in custody until that date, when a victim impact statement will be before the court. The judge also directed a probation report.