A woman who helped a killer by disposing and concealing evidence in the aftermath of him knifing a man to death was handed a suspended prison sentence on Wednesday.
Imposing a two year jail term on 27-year-old Samantha Collins but suspending it for two years, Judge Gordon Kerr QC said while it was clear she had knowledge that Daniel Carroll had murdered Brian Phelan, “I must have regard to the practical effect of any assistance or withholding.”
With Mr Phelan’s girlfriend Amanda Riordan in court and many other friends and relatives watching proceedings at Newry Crown Court by videolink, Judge Kerr said given the fact the Carroll was arrested less than 90 minutes after he left Collins’ house, “the fact is that I do not think she impeded the proper investigation or the police arrest.”
He said he also accepted that while it did not amount to a defence of duress, “there was a degree of pressure” on Collins given Carroll’s record and the fact that he had just committed murder, “he is clearly a man well capable of inflicting violence.”
Last week Collins’ defence QC John Orr launched a Rooney application where a judge gives an indication of the likely sentence should a defendant plead guilty and today (wed) Collins, who appeared at court by videolink, entered guilty pleas to assisting an offender on 26 July 2018 and withholding information from the day of the murder until 23 February this year.
Following a ten day trial in September, 30-year-old Daniel Carroll kidnapper turned knife killer was handed a life sentence after a jury unanimously convicted him of the murder of Brian Phelan.
During the trial which started on Monday of last week, the jury heard that for an unknown reason but possibly over a minor debt, Carroll stabbed Mr Phelan five times – three to the neck and two to his chest, at the top of the Carrivekeeney Road in Newry before leaving him to bleed to death in a nearby garden.
The men had gone to the rural road apparently to buy quad bikes but instead, Carroll attacked him and the jury saw CCTV footage of the stricken and bleeding victim trying to hide in the garden of a nearby house.
Carroll found him and “rifled” through his victim’s pockets to retrieve his phone before getting into Mr Phelan’s blue Peugeot and speeding off, leaving him to bleed to death.
As he lay fatally wounded, the jury heard how Mr Phelan called his girlfriend, asking her to come to him and repeatedly telling her “I’m dying” before calling 999 himself.
The distressing and harrowing 999 call was played to the jury and they heard him tell the operator “I’ve been stabbed, I’m dying, I’m dying,” telling the 999 operator “my mate, my mate Dan” had been his attacker.
Meanwhile Carroll drove to Collins’ home where he changed his blood soaked T-shirt and washed himself clean before getting a lift to his uncles house and revealing to him he had “been in an altercation with a fella and there’s rumours that he’s dead.”
It was that aspect of the brutal murder that has brought Collins before the court in that while Carroll was in the bathroom cleaning himself, he “made phone calls, part of which she overheard” but she failed to bring that information to the police.
Carroll was arrested a short time later but changed his story at that stage, telling the attesting sergeant “I didn’t do anything – I was in the town.”
The convicted killer, who has previous convictions for assaulting an ex and her dad and for kidnapping a woman off the street in Dundalk and assaulting her, remained steadfastly silent throughout several hours of police interviews, answering only “no comment” to all of their questions.
It wasn’t until 15 months later that Carroll initially came up with his concocted story of three men coming over the mountain, attacking Mr Phelan and threatening him before leaving the scene.
Giving evidence on his own behalf, Carroll claimed he had been in contact with two “senior dissident republicans” in the days leading up to the murder, claiming they had introduced him to the three men he claimed committed the grisly stabbing.
He told the jury while he had been “given permission” to talk about the incident, that permission was in the basis of “no names” being mentioned.
Sentencing Collins today (wed), Judge Kerr said it was “perfectly clear on the evidence that she had pre-knowledge of what he had done while overhearing the phone conversation.”
He said Collins, from Parkview close in the Cloghoge area of Newry, committed the offences by allowing Carroll “to use her house” to get changed, adding that while obviously serious and warranting a prison sentence, “she was in fear of Carroll snd his family given what she had overheard.”
Judge Kerr said given that pressure, couple with Collins’ guilty plea, clear record “I consider that this is an appropriate case to suspend the sentence” but he warned Collins she would have to serve the two years if she committed further offences.
The case against Carroll, who is waiting to hear what the minimum tariff will be before he can even be considered for release on licence, is due to be reviewed next week.