Regina Donohue arrived at Chrissie Treacy's farm to find her old friend lying dead on the concrete yard beside her home.
She ran at Michael Scott, trying to get at him, but she was held back by Francis Hardiman, a neighbour. She kicked and struggled but Mr Hardiman held on tight to Regina, who Mr Scott had previously referred to as "that b***h".
Minutes earlier, Scott had driven over his aunt in an agricultural teleporter, crushing all her internal organs and leaving track marks going from her right foot to her left hand. The skin of the left hand had been removed by what expert witnesses said could have been an "aggressive" change of direction causing the vehicle's large wheel to spin on her arm.
For the previous two years, Ms Treacy confided in friends, carers, healthcare workers, a solicitor, advisors and gardaí about her interactions with Scott. They tried to intervene on her behalf, but they couldn't convince her to leave her remote home, make a formal complaint to gardaí or to follow through with court injunctions.
What Chrissie told her friends and carers was not led by the prosecution because the trial judge ruled that it was hearsay and therefore inadmissible. But the jury was aware that she had tried to sever ties with her nephew by formally partitioning the land they jointly owned around the home where she grew up.
Michael Scott was on Thursday acquitted of murdering his vulnerable 76-year-old aunt Chrissie Treacy by running over her in an agricultural teleporter.
After nearly 15 hours of deliberations, the jury unanimously rejected the prosecution case that Scott deliberately murdered his aunt out of "a sense of entitlement and for revenge" following a long-running dispute over land. They found instead that Scott acted with gross negligence when he reversed across a yard beside Ms Treacy's home and drove over her.
Scott shook his head as he spent his last moments in the dock having gone on trial in mid-January. Scott and his family are the only living relatives of Chrissie Treacy. A number of people from her community were in court to hear the verdict while Scott was supported by family members and friends.
Scott told gardaí in interviews that he was reversing across the yard when he felt a "thump", thought he might have hit a trailer and moved the teleporter forward to level ground. He said that when he got down from the cabin he saw his aunt lying on the ground. His defence said that her death was a "tragic accident".
Following the verdict, Ms Justice Caroline Biggs told the jury that she had noticed the "extremely heavy" burden placed on the six men and six women and the "physical and mental strain, the toll it has taken on you." She said they had been diligent, had given up many weeks of their lives and she exempted them from jury service for the rest of their lives.
Before remanding Scott on continuing bail, the judge noted that during the trial Scott had called one witness a "grotesque" name that she did not want to repeat. Ms Justice Biggs was referring to the first day that witness Regina Donohue gave evidence. As Ms Donohue was leaving the stand, Scott called her a "c**t". Ms Donohue immediately reported it to gardaí and the following day the prosecution drew it to the court's attention.
Scott did not deny saying it and his barrister Paul Greene SC accepted it was “wholly inappropriate, wrong and shouldn’t have happened”. He said he had made Scott aware of his obligations as a person on bail on a murder charge and asked the court not to revoke his bail because of the difficulties that would create for the defence team in providing advice to Scott and receiving instructions.
Ms Justice Biggs told Scott: “Calling anyone a name like that is disgraceful; you should be ashamed of yourself. You are a very foolish man; on bail for a murder charge. I was going to put you into custody because I have a duty to protect witnesses in this court and ensure they are treated with respect and courtesy.”
She did not put him in custody because of the appeals by his lawyer, but the judge warned Scott: “If you do that again, if you look at a witness to intimidate them or treat them with disrespect, you will go into custody regardless of the repercussions.”
When Ms Donohue returned to the stand, the judge apologised to her for the insult and said: “I’m sorry that you had to experience that. Giving evidence is difficult enough without having to deal with that insult.”
At Thursday's hearing Ms Justice Biggs allowed Scott to remain on bail so that he could put his affairs in order but warned him not to take that as suggesting he would enjoy "continued liberty" following the sentencing hearing on June 12th. Ms Justice Biggs also ordered a probation report and asked the defence to gather any necessary psychological reports.
Scott (58), of Gortanumera, Portumna, Co Galway, had pleaded not guilty to murdering his aunt Christina 'Chrissie' Treacy outside her home in Derryhiney, Portumna, Co Galway on April 27th, 2018.
The trial heard that Ms Treacy and her brothers farmed about 140 acres at Derryhiney and that she owned another farm at nearby Kiltormer. Following the deaths of Ms Treacy's brothers, Michael Scott came to own half the land at Derryhiney and Ms Treacy owned the other half. She leased her land at Kiltormer and Derryhiney to Michael Scott.
In early 2017, Mr Scott did not bid to continue leasing the land from Ms Treacy in Kiltormer when it went up for auction. Regina Donohue told the trial that by Christmas 2017, the deceased had made an application through her solicitor to split the land at Derryhiney and put a new lease on the half that she owned.
On the day that Ms Treacy died, Mr Scott was to receive a letter from an agricultural consultant telling him that Ms Treacy was applying for a single farm payment on land she owned but had previously leased to Mr Scott.
Agricultural consultant and auctioneer Declan McHugh previously told the trial that Ms Treacy hired him in early 2017 to lease 40 acres she owned at Kiltormer that had previously been farmed by Mr Scott and his brother.
A little over two weeks before Ms Treacy died in April 2018, Mr McHugh said he received further instructions to write to Mr Scott asking him not to request a single farm payment in respect of three portions of land on the 140-acre farm he jointly owned with his aunt at Derryhiney. Ms Treacy was going to claim the payment for herself, Mr McHugh said.
The loss of the 70 acres at Derryhiney and the 40 acres at Kiltormer equated to "in the region of 50 per cent of Mr Scott and his wife's total holding," Mr McHugh said.
He said that under farming regulations, the loss of 110 acres would cause a potential reduction in Mr Scott's herd and would also reduce the amount of land available to him for drawing down the EU single farm payment.
Mr McHugh said: "With the loss of such a vast area of land, you are going to have massive problems in terms of stocking density and compliance with nitrates directives and that has huge financial implications for any farmer."
In garda interviews following his arrest in 2018, Scott said he didn't know he could call 999 for an ambulance and he didn't think his aunt would die.
He said he didn't help her up off the ground because he needed someone with him to help and he called his friend Francis Hardiman because he didn't know who else to call and didn't know the number of any doctors.
Scott denied that he murdered his aunt and said he did not want her to die.
He also denied that he was in a temper and deliberately rolled over her a second time after initially reversing over her.
Detective Garda Barry Carolan said he asked Scott what he did after getting off the JCB and finding his aunt on the ground.
He said he "went over beside her and said, 'are you all right Chrissie?' Oh god! What misfortune." He said she was "breathing heavy" but wasn't able to talk. He could see her face and when asked if she could recognise him, Mr Scott said: "I don't know. Shocking, your only aunt."
He said he didn't notice any injuries and when asked if he tried first aid, he said: "I wouldn't know anything about that."
Gda Carolan asked why he didn't call an ambulance. Scott replied: "I'm not very well up on technology. I didn't know you could ring an ambulance as well as the fire brigade on 999. I thought you would have to ring the hospital in Ballinasloe and I had no number for a doctor."
Scott said he didn't think of pressing the panic button around Ms Treacy's neck and he couldn't remember if he stayed with his aunt. Gda Carolan asked if he was with her when his aunt took her last breath. He said he may have "blanked out".
When asked if he thought Ms Treacy was "in a bad way", he said: "I didn't pass any remarks. I didn't think Chrissie was going to die. I could just hear her breathing."
Garda Carolan asked why, if he didn't think she was going to die, he didn't help her up.
"I needed someone with me," he said. "When I heard her breathing I thought she was going to be okay."
"Why didn't you check her injuries?" the garda asked.
"I just didn't," said Scott.
He said he didn't see any blood or injuries on her body.
"Did you want Chrissie to die," the garda asked.
"No," Scott replied.
Scott denied forcing his aunt to sign over the land to him in her will. He said it wasn't true that his plans were "falling down" around him after Ms Treacy decided she wanted to partition the farm. He said he wasn't concerned about the letter from Ms Treacy's agricultural consultant and questioned how she could make an application for payments when she didn't have any livestock.
He said that he didn't think Chrissie was "behind the letter" and said that he was regularly talking to his aunt at that time and he couldn't understand why she had contacted a solicitor instead of talking to him. He said his aunt would get confused but he had an understanding that the land would go to him when she died. "I have two witnesses to that," he said.
He said he had invested a lot in Derryhiney, hundreds of thousands of euros, and added: "Why do all that risk and work if someone else is going to take it over?" He said he only realised that Ms Treacy had left the land to Ms Donohue a few months after Ms Treacy died. "It was a very big shock," he said.
An engineer called by the defence, Dr Mark Jordan, said that the suggestion Ms Treacy was run over twice by the teleporter was "unsupported" and all her injuries could have been caused by one movement.
Dr Jordan also disagreed with a garda report suggesting that Ms Treacy should have been visible as Scott reversed across his yard.
He said that from early on gardaí had decided that the teleporter went over Ms Treacy twice, but Dr Jordan found there was only one clear imprint over Ms Treacy's trousers. He said that the other marks are "very difficult to interpret" but may have been left when Ms Treacy was in the upright position.
John Hayes, an engineer called by the prosecution, said a "flailing" injury to Ms Treacy's left arm was "not consistent with a vehicle reversing over the deceased, coming to a stop and moving forward."
He said the injury was consistent with "a far more aggressive action and could be consistent with the rotation of the wheel while on the limb." He explained that by "aggressive" he was not commenting on the driver's intent but on the "high torque" of the vehicle which allowed it to change from reverse to forward "very quickly".
The jury also heard that Scott had impaired vision in his right eye. Specsavers optometrist Trina Staunton said that Scott's left eye scored a perfect six out of six but his right eye was much weaker and scored six out of 38. The right eye, she said, was being "ignored by the brain".
When he was reversing the teleporter, Scott told gardaí that he would look over his right shoulder. Prosecution witnesses suggested it would be more natural to look over the left shoulder as there were a number of obstacles obscuring the view on the right including the boom arm and the engine.
Dr Jordan said a test carried out by gardaí looking out the rear window of the teleporter while it was stationary was not representative of the view Scott had on the day as he reversed across a bumpy yard while looking through windows coated in "field stuff, dust and dirt". He said there were blind zones and the sun hitting the dirt on the back windscreen could have caused glare and affected his view.
He also disagreed that it would be natural to reverse the teleporter while looking over the left shoulder. There is no natural way to drive, he said, but the steering wheel is mounted to the left and therefore "almost invites the left hand to deal with the steering wheel" so that the driver would turn and look over his right shoulder.
Dr Jordan said that gardaí had stated that Ms Treacy should have been visible to the driver but, he said, her direction of travel before the incident has not been established. The windows of the teleporter were "extremely dirty" and there were other impediments to the driver's view, he said. He also said that there were obstacles to the right which Scott would have had to look out for and could only be seen by looking over the right shoulder.
Some mysteries remain about the death of Chrissie Treacy, not least how she came to be in the yard in the first place. From her back door to where she lay would have required her to walk about 45 metres and as age and ill-health took hold, Chrissie's many friends and carers said she did not go into the yard. She never left the house without her body warmer and jacket but when found, she was wearing neither. She usually used a walking stick to get around, but it remained in her house.
She was wearing a pendant alarm around her neck, but she never chose to press it or didn't get a chance.
In mid-March, a little over one month before Ms Treacy's death, Scott went to Portumna Garda Station and wept in front of Sgt Gerard Cleary. He said Chrissie was being unreasonable and that he would have to give up his dairy farm because he didn’t know where he stood with her or what land he would have. He asked Sgt Cleary to intervene with Chrissie on his behalf.
Sgt Cleary told Scott, "to go to Derryhiney and show a bit of kindness to Chrissie and if he was good to her, it would work out okay for him.”
What was not in issue at the trial was that Chrissie Treacy died shortly after 3pm on April 27th, 2018 having been run over by a teleporter driven by Michael Scott. What the jury had to decide was whether Scott deliberately or accidentally ran her over.
The prosecution relied on background evidence of the relationship between Scott and his aunt. Bad conduct evidence was permitted to show that Scott had a motive to kill his aunt, and to rebut alleged lies he told during garda interviews that he had a good relationship with his aunt, that they only argued about minor things, and that his lease of her land at Derryhiney had worked "the finest".
Carer Caitriona Starr said that about six months before Ms Treacy died, Ms Starr arrived at Derryhiney and as she approached the door she heard Michael Scott shouting and banging on the table across from Chrissie. When Ms Starr appeared at the door, Scott took his leave muttering something about land under his breath.
The jury heard that in 2016 the HSE told Scott to stop putting financial pressure on Chrissie. Prosecution counsel Dean Kelly said most people would consider that a “standalone day” in their lives that would be a cause of “shame and enormous self-reflection”.
The jury knew Ms Treacy's solicitor had written to Scott numerous times in 2017 to tell him to stop threatening Chrissie and that the HSE had created safeguarding reports in respect of Ms Treacy because of concerns about her relationship with Scott. The jury did not hear the full title of those reports: Safeguarding Vulnerable Persons at Risk from Abuse.
The jury knew of an allegation that Scott turned off the oil to Chrissie's heating system in the runup to a severe bout of cold weather in the spring of 2018. They also knew that gardai had been called in to hear Chrissie's complaints weeks before her death but she refused to make a formal complaint.
Francis Hardiman told the jury that he was a neighbour and cousin of Ms Treacy. He also knew the accused well all his life and had worked for him from time to time.
The day of Ms Treacy's death Mr Hardiman was in Eyrecourt, about ten to 12 miles away, when he received a phone call from Mr Scott at 3.26pm. Mr Scott told him that he was "setting back out with the teleporter" and he "hit Chrissie". The accused was clearly upset and asked Mr Hardiman to "come down to me, quick".
Mr Hardiman made his way to Derryhiney and straight to Ms Treacy's house. There he saw the deceased lying face down on the concrete yard near her home close to the teleporter.
Mr Hardiman checked her wrist but found no pulse and said the act of contrition into her ear. Her hands were "pretty smashed up," he said and there were tyre marks on her trousers. There was blood around her legs and face but not a lot. He knew she was dead.
Mr Hardiman called gardaí and emergency services and went looking for Scott. He said he found him "in a hysterical way of crying and shouting" inside a shed.
Scott "just cried more" when Mr Hardiman told him that he had said a prayer over Chrissie and that she had passed away. The witness recalled Scott then "jumped up and went for his jeep and he pulled out a gun, a double barrel shotgun."
He heard Scott repeating, "I can't deal with this" as he stepped backwards with the gun while Mr Hardiman shouted at him. The witness said: "He was getting near where the tyres were on the ground and he tripped over a tyre and lost his balance. I grabbed the gun and took the cartridge out."
'A new family'
In her evidence, Regina Donohue told the jury that she knew the Treacy family from when she had done work experience with them for 12 weeks when she was studying farming. She became close friends with Chrissie and her brothers Willie and Michael and considered them to be "like a new family".
She continued to work with them for many years while running her own farms nearby. "I learned a lot from them," she said. "They had a love of animals and took pride in what they produced – quality milk and quality beef."
By Christmas 2017, Ms Donohue said the deceased made an application through her solicitor to split the land at Derryhiney and put a new lease on the half that she owned. Ms Donohue said it was around this time that Ms Treacy realised that the lease she had with Scott was for 30 acres, rather than the 70 acres she actually owned.
In April 2017 Ms Treacy decided she wasn't getting enough money from Scott for the land at Kiltormer and she asked her agricultural consultant to lease it to someone else.
Ms Treacy's financial situation was "very poor", the witness said, because she wasn't getting enough money from Scott and would have to go looking for the money when she was running low.
In the late spring of 2017 gardaí were called to Ms Treacy's home. Ms Donohue said there had been damage to fencing and cattle were let out at a separate parcel of land owned by Ms Treacy at Kiltormer where a new tenant had taken over from Michael Scott. "Chrissy was very stressed and upset over it," she said. "Some of his [the new tenant's] property had been damaged and he had to take his stock out of the land for two weeks for safety. It had a huge impact on her, it upset her immensely."
The witness was aware that gardaí spoke to Ms Treacy and Scott about the damage on the farm. Mr Hardiman, during his evidence, told the court that the accused confided in him that he had been accused of "knocking fences, opening gates and letting out cattle" on the Kiltormer land. Mr Hardiman said the accused told him that he "never went down there" and was upset that he had been accused. Mr Hardiman added: "I presume it was Chrissie who was accusing him."
In February 2018, about eight weeks before she died, Ms Treacy suffered "enormous upset" when her dog Bradley went missing and never returned, Ms Donohue said. "She loved her dog, he was like a child. He was her friend and company when there was nobody there with her."
Ms Treacy's doctor put her on medication for stress and anxiety and Ms Donohue sat up with her until 3.20am the following morning. Ms Donohue tried searching for the dog but he "vanished, he never came back."
Ms Treacy decided to change the locks on her front and back doors. In June 2017, on Ms Treacy's birthday, the witness said she and the deceased went out for a meal and when they returned Scott "stormed in and asked, "where the f**k were you?"" He said that he had no electricity in the dairy and "stormed through the hall" to flip the switches to turn the electricity back on.
Ms Donohue said that she began to avoid Scott but on one occasion in the weeks before Ms Treacy died, she was driving on the main Portumna to Ballinasloe road when Mr Scott, driving his jeep, "came straight for me". She said his jeep "swung" as she thought he was going to "take the mirror from my jeep". She composed herself and rang a local garda to tell him what had happened.
At around that time Ms Treacy asked her solicitor to draw up papers making Ms Donohue her next of kin. Ms Donohue said: "It was just that I would be able to get access to Ms Treacy at all times. She feared that Mr Scott would prevent me from having access to her."
On the day that Ms Treacy died, Ms Donohue received a phone call from Francis Hardiman saying that Chrissie had been involved in a machinery accident.
When Ms Donohue arrived at the farm she first saw Scott "sitting on his hunkers with his head in his hands". To the right she saw Ms Treacy on the ground. She went and knelt down beside her and then started "screaming and shouting at Mr Scott". She said she "wanted to get at him" but Mr Hardiman held her back. "I kicked Francis to let me go, but he held onto me tight."
In his closing address to the jury, prosecution counsel Dean Kelly SC said that Scott reversed over his aunt in a "deliberate act of murder out of a sense of entitlement and for revenge".
He said Scott had told big lies, little lies and enormous lies about his relationship with Ms Treacy in the lead-up to her death and about how her decision to partition the land would impact his farming business. There was also, he said, evidence that Scott had made "clear and direct threats" to do harm to Ms Treacy.
She was "there to be seen" before being struck, he said, either standing still or moving "exceptionally slowly" due to her age and ill-health. Mr Kelly showed the jury photographs taken from inside the teleporter cabin which, he said, showed that Ms Treacy, wearing her light blue cardigan, would have been visible through the rear window. The account given by Scott, in which he said that he was reversing the teleporter but did not see Ms Treacy, was "self-serving, dishonest, nonsense," Mr Kelly said.
Counsel pointed to what he called the "geometric precision" with which the teleporter ran over Ms Treacy from her right toe to her extended left hand, "crushing everything in its path" including her organs and pelvis, and removing the flesh from her left hand. "Imagine the precision of that," he said. "How unfortunate would you have to be for that to happen by accident?"
"This was a deliberate act of murder out of a sense of entitlement and revenge," he said.
In his closing speech to the jury, defence counsel Paul Greene SC said the defence evidence regarding how Ms Treacy died was more persuasive than that of the prosecution. He said it raised a reasonable possibility that her death was accidental and, he said, "in any event the prosecution has failed to prove its case" to the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.
He asked the jury not to look at the case from the perspective that Scott is a "monstrous person" but to approach the evidence coldly and without fear nor favour.
He said the prosecution had relied on evidence that suggested the accused was "self-pitying, was whingeing and was unkind, yes, to his aunt Chrissie. "
He added: "I respectfully suggest to you that no matter how monstrous that behaviour is, it doesn't go to what you are about in any meaningful way." The evidence, he said, was brought by the prosecution to suggest that Scott had a reason to kill his aunt but, counsel added: "It begs the question, why didn't he act sooner?"
He said that it is of particular significance that there was no evidence of a disturbance in Ms Treacy's home. While the evidence of several witnesses was that Ms Treacy would only leave her home on the rarest of occasions, there was no evidence of how she came to be in the yard or when she entered the yard.
Cruelty and unkindness
Mr Kelly told the jury that the intensity and toxicity of the relationship between Ms Treacy and her nephew was increasing with every passing week in the build-up to her death. There were, he said, incidents of general cruelty and unkindness such as Scott refusing to bring Ms Treacy's rubbish away and allowing it to pile up in the yard beside her home. "Imagine there was rubbish blowing around your yard and you not having the fitness to pick it up. There's a cruelty to that," he said.
There was also, counsel said, the "deliberate turning off" of Ms Treacy's oil "to torment" Ms Treacy.
There was also evidence that the milking parlour from which Ms Treacy's carers would fetch milk was occasionally locked and there was what Mr Kelly described as an "obstacle course" created in the yard to discomfort and embarrass Ms Treacy. In the months before Ms Treacy's death, Scott had brought cows up the "good road" leading to Ms Treacy's home causing it to become covered in cow dung and leading to Ms Treacy's concern that visitors' cars and the daycare centre bus would get dirtied. Mr Kelly said there was no reason for him to bring cows up that road, he had never done it before but did it in the months leading up to her death knowing it was a cause of "stress and embarrassment" to Ms Treacy.
The events on April 27th did not "simply fall from the sky" but, Mr Kelly said, there was a drumbeat growing louder in the months leading to it.
Ms Justice Biggs told the jury that if Scott deliberately ran over his aunt intending to kill her or cause her serious injury, then they were duty bound to find him guilty of murder. If they found that what happened was an accident, she told them to consider a manslaughter verdict on the grounds that he was "grossly negligent" in reversing without looking behind him. She told the jury to acquit if the prosecution had failed to prove either murder or manslaughter.