Garda killer who avoided execution denied jail release
A MAN who has spent decades behind bars for the murder of a garda has lost a High Court action aimed at securing his immediate release from prison.
The action was brought by Michael McHugh, who shot dead Sergeant Patrick Morrissey following an armed robbery in 1985.
McHugh was initially sentenced to death for the murder. The sentence was commuted to 40 years' penal servitude by the then-President Patrick Hillery, seven days before the execution was scheduled to be carried out.
In proceedings against the governor of the prison, the Minister for Justice, the Irish Prison Service and the DPP, McHugh claimed when the 25pc remission generally granted to prisoners is taken into account he is due for release after 30 years, which he has served.
He argued he was not given credit for five months he spent in custody, between July 3 and December 3, 1985, before his trial for the garda's murder concluded and should be released immediately.
Mr Justice Paul McDermott dismissed the case stating, under the separation of powers, the court could not compel the Minister for Justice to commute or remit the sentence.
In this case, the commutation of McHugh's sentence was wholly separate from the judicial process.
Unlike the President of Ireland and the Minister for Justice, who have discretion in such matters, the courts have no power in exercising pardon commutation or remission, he said.
McHugh had sought various orders and declarations including that he is entitled to be credited with the time he served in pre-trial custody.
This was a breach of his rights to natural and constitutional justice, it was argued.
His application was opposed by the State.
McHugh, with an address Clonalig, Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, and Noel Callan, formerly of Cullaville, Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, were convicted by the non-jury Special Criminal Court in December 1985 of the murder of Sergeant Morrissey (49) at Rathbrist, Tallanstown, on June 27, 1985.
Sgt Morrissey was initially wounded by McHugh, before he shot the unarmed garda in the head.