A Northern Ireland man was jailed for life by the Special Criminal Court in Dublin today for the dissident republican murder of a man shot dead in a church car park in Co. Donegal almost four years ago.
Martin Kelly had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Mr Andrew Burns who was shot twice in the back by a gunman linked to the dissident republican group, Oglaigh na hEireann.
Martin Kelly (37),a bus driver, from Barrack St, Strabane, was convicted last month of the murder of Mr Andrew Burns (27), an unemployed man, at Donnyloop, Castlefin on February 12, 2008.
He was also found guilty of the unlawful possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life on the same date.
Mr Justice Paul Butler, presiding at the non jury court with Judge Alison Lindsay and Judge Cormac Dunne, said that the court had no discretion with regard to the murder conviction and it sentenced him to life imprisonment.
The judge said the court sentenced Kelly to eight years for the firearms offence, and it ordered both sentences to run concurrently and to date from the time Kelly was taken into custody on March 16th, 2010.
The judge paid tribute to the garda investigation and said they had “let no stone unturned” in their efforts.
The shooting of Mr Burns was heard by a group of five young people from Clady, Co Tyrone who were walking in the area.
Kelly’s trial began in early October last year but after two days of evidence the court started a “trial within a trial” to decide on the admissibility of statements made by Kelly while in garda custody in Letterkenny and a statement made by Kelly to two senior gardai at a hotel in Northern Ireland.
The “trial within a trial” lasted twelve days.
Superintendent Vincent O’ Brien, Letterkenny, told the court that Kelly has no previous convictions in the Republic and eleven minmor convictions in Northern Ireland.
He said that both Kelly and Mr Burns were associated with the dissident group, Oglaigh na hEireann. The Superintendent said that Kelly had named his accomplices during an interview with gardai.
He agreed with defence counsel Mr Giollaoisa O’ Lideadha that because of this there was “ a very real, exceptional, dangerous threat to his life” and that he would probably have to be exiled from his family and home when eventually released from prison.
The Superintendent said that the garda investigation into the murder still continuing with the assistance of the PSNI. He said that to date five people had been arrested in connection with the murder.
Prosecuting counsel Mr Tom O’ Connell SC said that Kelly was part of a joint enterprise or plot to lure Andrew Burns to Donnyloop on the pretext that he was required to go on an IRA operation in which it was intended to murder a PSNI officer who was dating a girl in Donnyloop.
When they got to Donnyloop they were met by three men who were known as members of Oglaigh na hEireann.
The court was shown a video recording of when Martin Kelly was interviewed by Chief Superintendent Diarmuid O’ Sullivan and Superintendent Kevin English at a hotel in Ballymena in Northern Ireland on March 11th, 2010.
Kelly said that a week before the murder he was approached by Mr A who asked him to take Andrew Burns to Donnyloop for “ a punishment beating or shooting”. He met Mr A the next day and he told him that Mr B and Mr C would be there for the shooting.
Kelly told the officers that he knew it was “an IRA operation” and he said he had done other jobs for the IRA but had never been sworn in himself.
He said that on the day of the murder he picked up Mr Burns at the KFC in Strabane and drove him in his car to Donnyloop car park.
Mr Burns got out of the car and then Mr A walked past him. Then Mr B approached Andrew Burns and went to pull the trigger of his gun but the gun jammed. Mr Burns started to run towards the car park exit, the gunman, Mr B, ran after him and fired a shot which injured him.
Kelly said that Andrew Burns stumbled but kept running towards the church but Mr B chased him and fired a second shot. He said that Mr A, Mr B and Mr C then got back into the car and Mr C shouted at him to keep calm, to drive out of the car park slowly and keep the lights off. He said he could see that Andrew Burns had stumbled and was lying on the road at that stage.
Kelly said he drove to Clady village where Mr B handed him the revolver inside a black plastic bag and told him to dispose of it. He put it in the side of a hedge. He then drove the three men to the Fir Trees Hotel in Strabane where he left them.He told the gardai that he had known Mr A “all my life”, Mr B for fifteen years and Mr C for ten years.
Martin Kelly told the court during the “trial within a trial” that after his arrest when he was taken to Letterkenny Garda Station he was “in fear for his life” “There were certain people connected with dissident republicans who were interested to find out what the police were asking me,” he said.
Mr Burns sister, Ms Michelle Coyle, read a victim impact statement to the court oin which she said that Andrew, her younger brother, and her were very close and “shared hopes, dreams and futures.”
“Today, and for the rest of my life, I am mourning the loss of my brother, my best friend and protector,” she said.
“Andrew’s death has affected us in so many ways, physically, mentally and emotionally,” she added.
Mr Larry Burns, a brother of the victim, said that his death had “ a profound effect” on all his family.