Writer and Author

Sometimes Even the Guilty Deserve a Moment of Pity

David Curran sat beside his co accused, his eyes darting around the rapidly filling courtroom.  It was shortly before 3 o’clock and the jury had a verdict.  Beside him, Sean Keogh got hugs from his mother and his grandmother, but Curran could not find a friendly face.

We had been told, when the jury went out after lunch with the news that they could now come to a majority verdict, that Judge Liam McKechnie was not intending to call them back until at least 4.30.  Curran’s supporters, few though they were, had gone off secure in the knowledge that justice would be a long time  coming.  It was already the second day of waiting.

But, as so often happens when a jury is given the option of a majority verdict, the knock wasn’t long in coming.  A little over half an hour later the news came and people poured back into the courtroom.  The Keogh family filed into their seats, faces rigid with anticipation.  The sister of one of the two slain men at the centre of the trial took her seat at the side of the court with her brother’s former boss beside her.  She looked ahead grimly, waiting for whatever was to come.  But Curran’s supporters didn’t show.  His eyes kept their darting looking for the familiar face that didn’t arrive as his nervous rocking got faster.  By the time the jury took their seats he had given up.  Staring straight ahead, his hands clasped in front of his mouth.

At 19 years of age, he was alone when he was told that the jury had unanimously found him guilty of the murder of Polish mechanic Pawel Kalite and also of the murder of Marius Szwajkos by a majority of 11 to 1.

He stared straight ahead as Keogh beside him grinned at the news he had been acquitted on both counts.  He will be sentenced for the assault of Mr Kalite later in the month.  His family burst into unanimous tears as the verdicts were read out. Across the room Pawel’s sister glanced over coldly.  She will have to wait until tomorrow to make her feelings known when victim impact statements will be read to the court as Curran is given the mandatory life sentences.

He has been convicted of two of the most shocking murders in recent years.  Pawel Kalite & Marius Szwajkos died when they were stabbed in the head with a Philips screwdriver that Curran had taken from a stolen motorbike.

His defence was that he had thought one of them had stabbed his father but the jury did not accept that version of events.  They agreed with the prosecution, that Curran had reacted to an earlier incident in which a young relation was in a tussle with Mr Kalite.  The teenagers involved in that earlier row had called Curran, who arrived with Keogh and dealt out swift and fatal retribution.

It’s hard to feel sympathy for someone guilty of such a brutal crime but as he sat there surrounded by his legal team as the court emptied, tears running down his cheeks, it was difficult to not to feel a pang of basic empathy.  He suddenly looked extremely young and the full weight of what he had done and the punishment he was facing had obviously just hit.

I’ve had criticism here in the past for showing too much sympathy for the accused in various trials but when you’re telling a story it’s sometimes a by product.  I’ve worked in the courts for four years now.  I’ve covered a lot of trials.  I’ve sat and watched people accused of absolutely unpalatable cruelty to other human beings.  But I’ll always try to view everyone with compassion.  It’s not always possible. I’m certainly a lot more cynical since I started working here but sometimes, like today you see something that makes you forget for a moment the details on the charge sheet and look on the accused as just another human being.

I think Curran deserved the guilty verdicts.  His crime was a terrible one, sudden and shocking in a way that’s not often seen.  This case sparked outrage when it happened, there were candlelit vigils in Drimnagh at the scene. It’s the kind of case that makes you feel uncomfortable from the safety of your comfortable middle class life.  A story of teens out of control, lives wasted before they had even properly begun, two men who had come to this country to make a better life slain after one of them stood up to the wrong kids.  It doesn’t get any less terrible because the killer was upset but when the harsh veneer of feral adolescence is stripped away to show a flash of a frightened, vulnerable kid, the horror, if anything is worse.

Certainly as we all waited for the lift to the ground floor in the standard hanging around that follows a verdict in the hope of a useable quote, Curran’s sudden vulnerability was noted.  The sight of him being comforted had left a slightly unpleasant after taste. It made him look so young to have done something so horrible.

Tomorrow we’ll gather again to hear the victim impact statements from the families of the two Polish men as Curran is handed his two life sentences.  We’ll hear about the men who died in those few frenzied seconds on that Saturday evening and the effect their loss has had on their grieving families.  There’ll be no sympathy for Curran then, and this now is only a moment of thought before I settle down to write my final wrap up of the trial for the Sunday Independent.  But no matter how cynical I may become doing this job I never want to forget that everyone who enters that courtroom is a human being and all deserve some basic human compassion now and then.


  1. Shane

    Well said Abigail, it would be sad to lose one’s natural human compassion, even for violent criminals. I often feel pity for people who seriously abuse others, even while I support throwing them in jail, or prepare to defend myself against them.

  2. Deirdre

    Great insight there Abigail and good to know that you can keep some human compassion even after covering such awful cases. Just goes to show how important due process, justice and rehabilitation really are, despite the tabloid ‘evil scumbag’ title given to every criminal.

  3. Bock the Robber

    Yes indeed. That resonates.

    We here in Limerick are plagued by a criminal gang that arrived from England ten years ago Since then, they have introduced heroin to the city, creating widespread misery among its users, and have murdered dozens of people. They have dragged the good name of our town through the mud, and have displayed no empathy or compassion for any of their victims, or for the citizens at large.

    I must continue to remind myself of their essential humanity and guard against labelling them with cruel names.

  4. Real Deal

    Have to slightly disagree that such dealers display any essential humanity. Surely a degree of empathy is a pre-condition. I would agree that we should all try to see beneath the surface – but at times this isn’t always possible – or wise.

  5. Bock the Robber

    They are, after all, human like us, and they deserve our understanding even if they destroy our community.

    Extending our compassion is the least we can do for failing them as a society and forcing them to become millionaire drug dealers.

  6. Sad

    I am not gonna argue, whether a ‘man’ guilty of such a horrid crime deserves any pity. I admit, I’m Polish and obviously I am still moved by what happened over 2years ago to Paweł and Adam (as most of you would be by your fellow countrymen falling victims of such an unbelievable act of violence – there is sense of patriotism in all of us) , and I am a bit surprised to see a heading like this.
    I have great sympathy for many Irish people, I have come to know over the past 5 years I have spent in Dublin. I have witnessed plenty of acts of selflessness and ‘good deeds’ , that are a rarity in my country. I have to admit one thing, nonetheless. The more drunk, doped, abusive and very aggressive scumbags I see every day, the more gloom they cast upon the way I (and I guess many other foreigners) will remember and view your country.
    You might say, one has to be narrow-minded to judge the whole country by the few young ‘gangsters’ running amok and killing innocent people, but it does not take a genius to realize, that the painful memories/experiences have a tendency to prevail over the good ones. But if the government/local communities/church or the Almighty himself do nothing to change it, one day Ireland will no longer be a Friendly Emerald Island but a state where you will lock you door and stay in, on most of the evenings in fear of getting stabbed by a pack of 14 year old’s roaming the streets…
    *no offence to any drug/alcohol addicts out there, who are just fighting their own demons (with no harm to anyone) and trying to stay on the surface.
    All the best!

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