Michael Devine, James Slevin, and Patrick M'Kenna, were arraigned, the first for the murder of Thomas Cudden and James Bunn, at Rathkenny, on the 5th of March, 1833, and the other two for inciting him to commit the act. Devine, a miserable-looking man, upwards of 70, apparently labouring under much anxiety, and Slevin, a young man, of about 39, were put on their trial. Patrick M'Kenna was ordered to stand aside for a separate trial.
James Slevin was a tenant of Edward Thomas Hussey, esq., on his estate of Rathkenny, where he held 100 acres at a rent of something above 200l., which he paid punctually. In 1827, he had a lease of the demesne, house, and garden, granted him, which, it appeared, Mr. Hussey had not a right to do without the concurrence of his son, who, on his part, desired that be and his father should retain a part of the house, the orchard, garden, and some land about the house. Slavin was dissatisfied with this "renewal with reservations." Mr. Hussey offered him some other land at a distance which would soon be out of lease. Slevin refused, and, in 1828, accepted the second lease, which left the Hussey family in possession of part of the house and garden, where they occasionally (and Slevin constantly) resided on terms of a mutually bad understanding. To increase it, they had a quarrel about rent, and Slevin paid it up to the day on an implied fear of his cattle being driven to pound for sale. Further, he had spoken against the tithe system at one of the popular meetings; his speech had been reported to Mr. Hussey, who thereupon told him his mind upon the matter, and informed him, moreover, that he had reported him to Mr. Blackburne, a neighbouring magistrate, who had, in his turn, reported him to the attorney-general. Thus the differences of three joint tenants of one house grew wider every day.
Devine was a poor under-tenant on the same estate, who, it was sought to be proved, had been employed by Slevin, with others, to assassinate Mr. Hussey. The murdered James Dunn was steward, and his unfortunate companion an under-tenant to Mr. Hussey. They met their fate in a mistake, under the following singular circumstances: Mr. Hussey was leaving Rathkenny on a short visit to England, unknown to his tenantry, and on the 5th of March had driven in his gig, with James Buns, to reach the Monaghan coach at a cross road, about a mile and a half from his house, where he intended to have left the gig to be brought home by his steward, and to proceed to Dublin in the coach. It appeared, both from the testimony of an approver (John M'Kenna, a tenant on the estate) and from the confession of Michael Devine (written while in gaol, under hope of pardon, held out by a fellow prisoner, an apothecary) that these two wretches, together with a third, named Andrew Callon (escaped to America), had laid in wait behind a hedge for Mr. Hussey on his expected return in the gig, to shoot him with a blunderbuss, which they said they got with the requisite ammunition, from James Slevin. Mr. Hussey had, however, missed the coach at the cross-roads, and had driven on with his steward three miles and a-half further to Slane, where he overtook the coach, and proceeded to Dublin, leaving the gig to the care of James Bunn, who returned in the dark of the evening to the house at Rathkenny, taking with him for company the tenant, Thomas Cudden, whom he called for at his house as be passed.
The assassins, seeing two men re turning in the gig, who they had no doubt were the same that went in it a few hours before (though the darkness prevented them from distinguishing their faces), fired the blunderbuss at them heavily loaded with slugs, and at one shot killed both their victims, conceiving they had thus destroyed at once the obnoxious landlord and his no less hated steward. The alarmed horse dashed on with the gig and the murdered men to the house, where Slevin and the servants found them both quite dead, Bunn pierced with fourteen slugs and Cudden with five (which were subsequently extracted by Dr. O'Brien, and exhibited in court), besides others lodged in the lining and cushions.
The principal circumstances, which appeared to connect James Slevin with the transaction besides those already mentioned, were, 1st, his positively denying (at the time he was arrested, and gave up his arms to George Despard, esq., stipendiary magistrate) that be had at any time any other arms than those of which he gave a list, concealing the fact of the blunderbuss having ever been in his possession, though it was afterwards proved that he purchased it at Truelock's shop in Dublin, sent it to the Navan coach-office, and finally lent it to Andrew Callon (the escaped assassin) by the hands of John M'Kenna (the approver), whose son afterwards gave it up to the magistrates. This latter fact of the loan, however, rested on the testimony of the approver alone; 2nd, the anxiety displayed by Slevin respecting Mr. Hussey's return in the gig, or otherwise. Carney (Mr. Hussey's driver) stated that he saw James Slevin in the course of theday; he came to the door of Rathkenny-house, and asked witness if he could see Bunn. Witness called Bunn. Slevin asked him, when he came, could he see Mr. Hussey? Bunn asked Slevin would he tell Mr. Hussey that he wanted to speak to him? Slevin replied that he had heard among the men that Mr. Hussey was going to England and all be wished to know was, whether it was true, or was he to come back in the gig that evening. Bunts told him that Mr. Hussey would come back that evening, and that he was not going to England.
Devine made no defence. Slevin produced E. Grainger and A. H. Pollock, esqrs., magistrates, who gave him an excellent character.
The chief approver, John M’Kenna, on his cross-examination by Sargeant O’Loghlin, acknowledged that be heard of money being offered for information. Heard there was 1,000l. offered. Would rather shoot Mr. Hussey than get 1,000l. Would shoot six men to save his land. Would not kill 1,000 men to save his own life; after some hesitation, he said he would kill 500 men to save his own life. Believed there was a God. Knew he was forbidden to commit murder, and yet be would kill two men, at all events, to save seventeen acres of land. Would not swear falsely against any one, but would commit murder to save his seventeen acres of land. Would rather take a false oath than be hanged.
The jury retired, and returned in about half an hour saying, they agreed as to one of the prisoners, but could not agree as regarded the other. They were locked up all night, and on the following day found Slevin Not Guilty, and Devine Guilty.
The Annual Register, or a view of the History, Politics, and Literature of the Year 1834.
London: Printed for Baldwin and Craddock, et. al, 1835.