By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The trial of four men for the capital murder of Det. Garda Jerry McCabe during an abortive robbery of a post office cash delivery van in 1996 has begun in the Special Criminal Court.
The trial is expected to last at least three months and if found guilty, the men face mandatory jail sentences of 40 years.
During the Northern Ireland peace agreement negotiations, Sinn Fein lobbied to have anyone convicted of the murder included in the scheme for the early release of prisoners, but the Irish government turned this down.
McCabe, a father of five, was shot dead in his Garda car while on escort duty with the mail van on June 7, 1996 in Adare, Co. Limerick.
His partner, Det. Garda Ben O’Sullivan, was seriously injured.
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The van was about to deliver pension money to the post office in Adare when it was rammed by a stolen jeep. Two men with AK 47 Kalashnikov assault rifles jumped out of the jeep and one opened fire on the Garda escort car.
The four facing murder charges are Pearse McAuley, 34, Strabane, Co. Tyrone, and three men from Limerick, Jeremiah Sheehy, 36, Rathkeale; Michael O’Neill, 46, and Kevin Walsh, 42, both of Patrickswell. A fifth man from Patrickswell, John Quinn, is charged with conspiracy to rob and unlawful possession of ammunition. All pleaded not guilty.
The book of evidence runs to 1,400 pages and there are more than 360 witnesses.
Ward ends hunger strike
Meanwhile, the first man to be convicted of the murder of crime reporter Veronica Guerin ended a 25-day Portlaoise Prison fast and began eating again after a visit from his mother.
Paul "Hippo" Ward, 33, was given a life sentence last Nov. 27 for his role in the June 1996 killing of Guerin, who was shot dead in her car in a Dublin suburb.
Prison officers were planning to move the former heroin addict to the hospital from high-security Portlaoise amid concerns about his deteriorating health.
He had begun his mystery fast shortly after being sentenced and had lost more than 20 pounds. He had given no reason for his behavior. He denied he was on hunger strike and did not object to prison conditions.
Ward began eating again after he had a specially arranged visit from his elderly mother.
Two other men are due to face charges for Guerin’s murder, which caused public outrage and led to the summer recall of the Dail to pass a major anti-crime package.