Last March, two US military veterans – Ken Mayars and Tarak Kauff – were arrested at Shannon airport for attempting to inspect a US warplane present on the runway there. The aircraft was on its way to the Middle East carrying up to 300 armed US troops. Since then, both men, who are in their 70s and 80s, have had to comply with bail conditions that see them stuck in Ireland and unable to return home to the United States.
Below, an excellent and very thorough report on Ken and Tarak’s current situation and the lead-up to it, written by Ken.
SUMMARY: The high court has denied our appeal to have our bail conditions modified in order to allow us to return to the United States until our trial. However the judge said that we may appeal again after the trial date has been set, which we think will happen in October.
The details, of course, are a good deal more complicated and probably confusing. I will try to explain the entire course of events as clearly as I can within the limitations of my understanding of the Irish judicial system. This may tell you more than you want to know, in which case you should know that we will remain in Ireland at least until October of this year and conceivably until sometime in 2021.
Let’s start with the Irish court structure.
Like the US system, Ireland has several levels of courts for most legal processes and some specialized courts for selected legal processes. For our situation, the relevant courts are two levels of criminal courts and a distinctive “High Court” for bail matters and selected other proceedings.
Unlike the United States, there are two categories of attorneys in Ireland: solicitors and barristers. Normally an individual accused of an offense hires a solicitor or the court may appoint a solicitor to represent the accused. If a case is to be argued in front of a jury, the solicitor will retain a barrister to present the case in court.
The court of first instance is the district court. When an individual is accused of a crime, he or she is “arraigned” before a judge in the district court closest to the scene of the crime. The judge will determine if the accused may be freed on bail. The Irish constitution guarantees a conditional right to bail, but bail can be denied on some grounds. If bail is denied, the accused may appeal to the High Court. These appeals are completely separate from the criminal case itself, focusing exclusively on whether bail should be allowed. In the appeal, the accused is represented by a solicitor-barrister team.
Trials in the district court are bench trials before a judge — no jury. The accused may be represented by a solicitor or may self-represent. District courts are quite limited in the penalties they can assign. If a judge feels that it would be inappropriate to try a case in the district court, he can refuse jurisdiction and elevate it to the circuit court for that county. Circuit court cases are normally jury trials and the accused is normally represented by a solicitor-barrister team.
So this is the stage-set upon which our drama is playing out.
Starting at the beginning, we were arrested on a taxiway of the Shannon Airport on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day. The next morning we were arraigned in the District Court in Ennis, the county seat of County Clare. The charges were trespass and criminal destruction of property. The day after St. Patrick’s day is a bank holiday in Ireland; so a judge had to be dragged into court on her holiday to hold a special session for us. That probably did not improve her mood. At any rate, she accepted the prosecution argument that because we are Americans we might disappear into the United States and be difficult to bring back for trial. On that ground she denied bail and sent us to Limerick Prison to await trial.
Our first opportunity to appeal her bail decision was 12 days later. On March 28 we were taken by prison van from Limerick Prison to Cloverhill Prison. The High Court meets in a courthouse adjacent to the prison. On arrival we were placed in cells. We were subsequently called up one-by-one to confer with the court appointed solicitor and barrister, then returned to our cells. Eventually we were called up to the courtroom where we were placed in a glass cage to be present at the proceedings. In the high court the solicitor sits facing the barrister with her back to the judge. This allows them to confer with one another during the proceedings. The solicitor can also come over to the glass cage and communicate with her clients through a few tiny holes in the glass. Frankly it doesn’t work worth a damn.
We felt our solicitor-barrister team did a good job, but the judge just wasn’t buying it. He reluctantly granted bail with the following conditions: 1) stay away from Shannon Airport and all other Irish airports; 2) surrender passports to Limerick Prison; 3) provide $2500 surety each. We were then transported back to Limerick Prison for one more night in jail.
Soon thereafter we were back in District Court in Ennis to continue the case track. The prosecution requested a month adjournment to complete the “book of evidence,” but when we came back the book had not been completed and the prosecution asked for another two weeks. At our next court date, the judge appeared to be on the verge of refusing jurisdiction but again the prosecution asked for two more weeks. This time the judge was clearly irked; he granted the prosecution request but pointed out that “the accused are both ‘long in the tooth’ and further delays would be most inappropriate. Finally on June 19th, just over 3 months from the date of the offense, we got the book of evidence and Judge Durkin refused jurisdiction on the damage charge, but not on the trespass charge, which was really weird. (More on that shortly.) He set a date of July 10th for us to return to District Court on that charge.
The circuit court acted with surprising speed on Judge Durkin’s elevation of the case, calling it to be heard on May 30. Unfortunately, somehow we weren’t notified; so the case was adjourned until September 30. When we got to District Court on July 10, the prosecution did us a favor and recommended to the judge that, in the light of the circuit court date, the District Court case be adjourned until October 9. Our solicitor, Michael Finucane, will be submitting petitions prior to September 30 requesting that the trespass case be elevated to the circuit court to be combined with the damage case and that both cases be moved from County Clare to Dublin because of the difficulty of getting an unbiased jury so close to Shannon Airport.
Which bring us back to today’s (well, it was today’s when I started writing this) high court case.
The court convened at 11:15. It always hears first the cases of prisoners currently in custody. One of those cases this morning involved a young man, 17 years old at the time of the offense but now 18 and being tried as an adult, charged with homicide. The deceased believed that the accused had damaged his car and in return threw a rock through the window of the accused’s grandmother, with whom the accused was living. The deceased then broke through the door. An altercation ensued and the accused allegedly ended up fatally stabbing the deceased with a kitchen knife. The accused had a number of prior convictions as a juvenile. The judge ended up granting bail at 2000 euros. This in comparison with the 2500 euros that Tarak and I had each had to provide (paid by Ed Horgan) for our piddling little offense. When recess was called at 12:30 we felt our odds had been improved.
But, obviously, we were wrong. When our case was called at 2:30, it was pretty clear that the judge was not going to change his earlier decision on our case in spite of the strong arguments that our barristers provided. (Michael Finucane had arranged a barrister for each of us.) Our main argument was that in the likely event that the case would be moved to Dublin, the clogged Dublin court calendar would probably result in a court date in mid-2021, and that this length of time restricted to Ireland would impose an unfair, unjust burden given the nature of the offense. The judge said that as of now, at least, nothing had changed in our situation since our earlier appearance before him and therefore he was not changing his decision. Our barristers asked him if he would then be willing to allow an appeal after the trial date was set, since that would be a change in the situation. The judge said that he might or might not be a sitting judge come September, but that if he is not he would recommend that the sitting judge allow an appeal.
Which bring us back to the summary statement: The high court has denied our appeal to have our bail conditions modified, allowing us to return to the United States until our trial. However the judge said that we may appeal again after the trial date has been set, which we think will happen in October.
Thanks for hanging in there with us. This is obviously very disappointing, but we will continue actively pursuing our mission as long as we are here.
Ken Mayers on bail in Ireland