Belfast Telegraph

Death trial 'should not have heard character evidence'

Wrongly introduced bad character evidence "infected" the trial of a man found guilty of the homophobic murder of a supermarket boss, the Court of Appeal heard.

Lawyers for Ramunas Balseris said a previous example of alleged aggression towards victim Shaun Fitzpatrick should not have been put before the jury.

Mr Fitzpatrick, a 32-year-old gay man, was beaten to death on his way home from a bar in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, in March 2008. He was kicked and stamped on during two separate attacks, suffering 52 different injuries to his head, neck, chest and body.

Balseris (27) and fellow Lithuanian Andrius Dunauskas (24) were both convicted last year of his murder. The trial judge recommended they be deported after serving at least 20 years in prison.

At the time he stated that even if Dunauskas inflicted most of the injuries, allegations that his co-defendant stood smoking during the second attack represented "chilling evidence of his callous disregard for their victim".

However, counsel for Balseris argued his client's conviction was unsafe and should be quashed.

Frank O'Donoghue QC based much of his challenge on bad character evidence introduced at the trial in relation to an event several months before the murder.

Balseris was alleged to have shouted angrily at Mr Fitzpatrick "I'm not gay" following an incident at a bar in Dungannon.

Mr O'Donoghue contended that it was an error in law to allow this evidence to be heard.

He told the three appeal judges: "My objection stems from the application (to admit it). After that everything that flows from that is infected."

But Terence Mooney QC, for the Crown, argued that the trial judge had been entitled to allow the evidence as part of considerations on a possible motive.

"The impression he (Balseris) was intending to convey to the jury was that he did not have a problem with the sexuality of the deceased," Mr Mooney said.

"The jury would then wonder what motive would he have had to go along with Dunauskas.

"Without the evidence the jury would indeed be left in a vacuum."

Following submissions Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, Lord Justice Coghlin and Mr Justice McLaughlin reserved their verdict.

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