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Irish murder conviction quashed

Guerin was shot five times in her car
Guerin was shot five times in her car  

DUBLIN, Republic of Ireland -- A man jailed for the murder in 1996 of Irish investigative journalist Veronica Guerin has had his conviction quashed.

Paul Ward, 37, was jailed for life in November 1998 after being found guilty of shooting Guerin, 36, in her car as she drove in Dublin in June 1996.

The crime reporter for the Sunday Independent newspaper, who was married with a son, was shot dead at the wheel of her car by the pillion passenger on a motorcycle that drew up alongside her at traffic lights.

On Friday, the Court of Criminal Appeal in Dublin upheld a claim by Ward that the evidence against him from a prosecution witness had not been credible.

However, Ward was not set free and was instead returned to Portlaoise Prison in County Laois to serve the remainder of a 12-year term imposed in 1999 for his part in a riot in Dublin's Mountjoy jail while he was awaiting trial for the Guerin murder.

The appeal court ruled that evidence given at Ward's trial by Charles Bowden, a former soldier now living in special security conditions outside Ireland, lacked credibility.

Bowden received immunity from prosecution for murder in exchange for testifying that Ward disposed of the handgun and motorcycle used to kill Guerin, although he admitted he had supplied and loaded the gun.

Mr Justice Frank Murphy, president of the court, directed that the appeal should be allowed and that the conviction set-aside.

He said it had to be assumed that the killing of Guerin was opportunistic and not the result of "a pre-ordained" scheme.

'Grave suspicions'

Guerin's murder prompted law changes in the Republic of Ireland and a major police offensive against organised crime that ended up with a number of convictions for offences not directly connected to the murder of the journalist.

Members of Ward's family indicate he would appeal against the prison riot conviction.

Jimmy Guerin, the murdered journalist's brother said: "I firmly believe most of those responsible for Veronica's murder are behind bars. But we knew there was a danger of Paul Ward winning an appeal."

Commissioner Pat Bryne, head of the Irish Republic's Garda Siochana police force, pledged continued investigations of organised crime.

He added: "If a court makes a decision, we respect that decision and carry on with our business."

Guerin had reported extensively on the drug-dealing empire of John Gilligan, who employed Ward, Bowden and Brian Meehan.

Meehan was convicted in 1999 of murdering Guerin after Bowden and others identified him as the motorcycle driver. He received a life sentence.

Gilligan was acquitted of murder at his 2001 trial even though the judges cited their "grave suspicions" that he masterminded the hit.

He was, however, convicted of several drug-related offences and received a 28-year sentence.

Bowden served part of a five-year sentence for distributing illegal drugs and since has been living overseas with a new identity.

Guerin's story has already been dramatised in a 1999 film starring Joan Allen, "When the Sky Falls."

A second film, starring Cate Blanchett and being directed by Joel Schumacher, is in production.


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