A 57-year-old father of two has been sentenced to life in prison for murdering his flatmate by bludgeoning him to death with the leg of a coffee table in their Limerick home.
The Central Criminal Court trial heard that the 39-year-old victim had suffered a multiplicity of blows to his face; his broken skull was visible when his body was found.
His murderer had originally told gardaí that he had come home to find his flatmate and colleague with serious injuries, blaming an intruder.
However, when he entered the witness box last week, he claimed that he had acted in self defencer. He testified that the father of one had called him into his darkened bedroom in the middle of the night and had begun swinging the wooden table leg at him.
He said he managed to disarm him, but that his flatmate had continued to come at him with his fists. He said he then swung the table leg at him until the deceased shouted stop.
Arnis Labunskis, a Latvian with an address at Wolfe Tone Street, Limerick City, had pleaded not guilty to murdering Lithuanian native Dainius Burba in their house there on April 21 or 22, 2015.
The trial heard that Labunskis had walked for almost an hour across the city to his daugher’s house after beating his flatmate. He told her he’d been in a fight.
She drove him to the house of her brother, who told him to go home. However, she asked a neighbour to check on him, and the alarm was raised when that neighbour caught him trying to hide evidence.
The Deputy State Pathologist testified that he noticed obvious head injuries could tell that Mr Burba’s jaw was fractured when he saw his bloodstained body lying on a bed at the scene.
Dr Michael Curtis later carried out a post-mortem examination and found several lacerations to his head. Many of these were ‘full-thickness’, meaning that the wound went down to bone. There was also visible fractured skull bone.
He concluded that the deceased had received an estimated 19 blows to the head and face, resulting in severe brain injury. He gave the cause of death as blunt force injury.
The jury also heard technical evidence about blood spatter and how the victim’s blood would have ended up on his killer’s tshirt, which was found in a wheelie bin near their home.
Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy told the jury that it could reach three possible verdicts: guilty; acquittal; or not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter in line with the defence of self defence.
However, following just two hours and one minute deliberating, the three women and nine men returned with a unanimous verdict of guilty.
There were quiet sighs of relief from the family of the deceased, while the accused showed no emotion as a translater whispered the verdict to him.
The jury remained in court while Sergeant John Farmer read a short victim impact report on behalf of Mr Burba’s sister, Gitana Burbaide.
She wrote that her brother had been a son, brother and father, and ‘a good person, who never wanted to die’.
“He came to Ireland two months before his death looking for a better life,” she explained.
She said that their mother was heartbroken, but that his daughter and partner were probably the most affected. A bicycle he had bought for his daughter shortly before his death was now her most important possession.
“As a sister, the loss is huge,” she wrote. “When I marry my partner this year, I will not get to dance with Dainius at my wedding.”
She said her children would never know their uncle.
“He was very loved by his family, who will miss him every day of our lives,” she concluded.
Labunskis stood as the judge sentenced him to life imprisonment. She expressed the hope that the verdict would give some hope and closure to the family.
As well as thanking the jury, she commended the gardai involved, who she said conducted themselves in an exemplary manner.
“This investigation is a fine model of how investigations should be conducted,” she said.
Labunskis was led away to begin his life sentence before Mr Burba’s sister and partner left the courtroom, supported by friends.