Northern Ireland news

`Significant amount' of cartridge discharge residue uncovered on clothing retrieved from home of alleged killer

Shane Whitla (39) was shot dead in Lurgan

A “SIGNIFICANT amount” of cartridge discharge residue (CDR) has been uncovered on clothing retrieved from the home of an alleged killer.

Omagh Magistrates Court also heard that while the clothing, consisting of a balaclava, tracksuit bottoms and a black hooded top, were uncovered during searches of Joshua Cotter’s home, the 29-year-old claimed his neighbour Jake O’Brien had handed the “soaking wet” items to him.

Cotter and O’Brien (27), both from Church Walk and a third man Kevin Conway (25), from Deeny Walk, all in Lurgan, are all jointly charged with the murder of Shane Whitla on January 12.

O’Brien is also accused of having a firearm and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

Mr Whitla was shot in an alleyway off Woodville Street, before making his way to Lord Lurgan Park where he died. All three defendants deny involvement.

Police have said the murder was as a result of a drug debt and a “feud between organised crime gangs,” including one known as “the firm,” claiming that Cotter is an “active member” of the firm.

An officer told the court that there have been recent developments in the police investigation in that forensic scientists examining seized clothing for CDR reported that between the three items, “30 indicative particles" had been retrieved.

"The scientists wound state that finding 13 present would be high and here we have a total of 30. That’s a significant matter," they said.

"This number of particles would suggest that the person wearing the clothing was present at a primary source, eg. when a weapon was discharged."

Under cross examination from defence solicitor Paul McCrudden, the officer agreed that before the murder Cotter was “unknown to police, to all intents and purposes”. He said however the police were aware of the recent activities of the firm so feared further offences as “there are still scores to settle".

He also agreed there was no CCTV footage showing anyone wearing a mask and there were no eye witnesses stating the gunman was wearing a mask.

Mr McCrudden said that according to Cotter, he had only recently moved in beside O’Brien and while he had been with him earlier on the day of the murder, he was at home that evening when O’Brien came to his door and handed him clothes which were “soaking wet and smelled of washing liquid”, suggesting it may be those that tested positively for CDR.

District Judge Bernie Kelly adjourned the bail application to February 10.

She asked if the balaclava could be tested for DNA, suggesting that it might inform her decision if the DNA of Cotter was around the mouth of the mask.


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