Man who left boy with permanent brain damage after hitting his head 65 times wins appeal

A Limerick man who left a schoolboy with permanent brain damage after beating him unconscious in an unprovoked attack has successfully appealed against the 15-year sentence imposed on him.

The man, who was a teenager in the care of the HSE at the time of the “unprovoked, sustained and vicious” attack, was caught on camera inflicting 65 kicks and stamps to his 16-year-old victim’s head, along with two stamps to his chest and 26 punches.

There was evidence that the man told gardaí he was “stoned out of his head on vodka and tablets” at the time of the attack.

The Court of Criminal Appeal today ruled that the sentencing judge failed to consider whether the nature of the man’s problems with drink and drugs stemming from his “particularly severe dysfunctional background” brought the matter outside the type of case where there is a simple reliance on drink or drugs as an excuse.

However, given the man’s young age and previous record, presiding judge Mr Justice Frank Clarke said the court would consider reports on his progress in prison and hear submissions on what an appropriate sentence might be before determining the new sentence to be imposed.

The now 20-year-old man, from Lisanalta in Dooradoyle, was originally charged with attempted murder of the boy on July 23, 2010 as the victim waited for his mother at a service station in Corbally, Co Clare.

However, a plea to intentionally causing his victim serious harm was accepted in the Central Criminal Court and in November 2011 he was sentenced to 15 years with the final three years suspended by Mr Justice Paul Carney.

In its written judgement, the Court of Criminal Appeal noted that in sentencing the man, Mr Justice Carney held that the influence of drink and drugs “affords no defence but also no mitigation in one’s responsibility to society” and that the man’s dysfunctional background afforded him little, if any, mitigation.

Moving the appeal, Mr Patrick Gageby SC had argued that Mr Justice Carney erred in his attribution of the question of whether drink and drugs were a relevant factor in the offence.

He said while the judge’s finding that the issue of drink and drugs offered no defence may have been correct, to misattribute it as “simply irrelevant” to the mitigating circumstances in the case was wrong.

Mr Gageby said Mr Justice Carney “almost entirely” dismissed the “grossly apparent” dysfunctional background of the accused. Counsel submitted it was a “cardinal error” for a judge to opine that a dysfunctional background was of little if any regard in a case such as this.

Counsel submitted that the man’s youth, his plea of guilty and his expressions of remorse were “bundled in to too small a period” of reduction when it came to imposing sentence.

He said in circumstances where this a complex case involving a “dreadful and visible” offence where the applicant was at the time a child in law and where the judge had three weeks to consider his judgement, Mr Justice Carney committed an error in principle by failing to explain why he did not take some matters in to account when considering an appropriate sentence.

In its written judgement, the appeal court found that a sentencing court is required to consider whether a persistent problem with substance abuse, particularly if it stems from difficult upbringing, can amount to a factor that weighs significantly on the sentencing process.

This is especially so, the court found, if there are attempts at rehabilitation or where the accused was particularly young at the time of the offence.

CCTV footage of the almost five-minute, frenzied attack was shown at the Central Criminal Court sentence hearing, revealing how the victim was sitting on a windowsill when he was attacked by the man.

The court heard that the accused was in the care of the HSE when he carried out the attack. The man was being driven back to a residential home by two female social care workers and said that he was “looking for someone”. He shouted at the driver of the car to pull in at a petrol station and got out saying “You have no idea what I am capable of”.

The attacker approached his victim and repeatedly punched, kicked and stamped on the boy’s head as he lay motionless on the ground. The assault continued long after the boy had stopped moving.

The man then left his victim’s body lying in a pool of blood on the forecourt. A car was seen driving by his body before the accused returned a few moments later to stamp, kick and punch the unconscious teenager again.

The court heard previously that 11 eyewitnesses observed the attack, but it was not until this point that a man described in court as ‘A good Samaritan’ was seen intervening and moving the man away.

The victim was taken to Limerick Hospital, where he was kept on life support for eight days before being transferred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire.

A report on the man’s background indicated his parents were “unavailable” and that he had “multiple disruptions in relation to his sense of home”. He also had an undiagnosed learning disability as well as problems with drug and alcohol abuse.

A medical report said the victim still suffers from weakness on his right side, deafness, as well as memory and speech problems as a result of the attack.

The attacker had wrongly thought that his victim was involved in having his friend imprisoned for life.

“I beat the head off him. I danced over his head,” he said when arrested.

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