A violent attacker who was jailed for 13 years after he repeatedly stamped on a pensioner’s head during a brutal and unprovoked assault lasting 14 minutes was not given enough credit for his early guilty plea, the Court of Appeal was told on Tuesday.
Jonathan O’Driscoll (33), formerly of Coolcower House, Macroom, Co Cork, but now a prisoner at Wheatfield Prison, was imprisoned after he pleaded guilty to assault causing serious harm to Christy O’Callaghan (73) at Sleaveen East, Macroom, on March 21st, 2019.
During the prolonged assault, Mr O’Callaghan – who has recently passed away – suffered a bilateral scalp laceration, fractures to his facial bones, extensive soft tissue damage, fracture of the ribs, a collapsed lung and subdural haematoma.
He later required life-saving treatment at Cork University Hospital, and had to be moved from his home to a long-term care facility after his release as a result of his injuries.
O’Driscoll has since appealed the severity of the sentence imposed by Judge Sean O’Donnabhain at Cork Circuit Criminal Court in February 2021 on the grounds that it was “excessive in all circumstances”.
'Easy to say sorry'
At the Court of Appeal on Tuesday, O’Driscoll’s barrister, Siobhan Lankford SC, said that Judge O’Donnabhain’s headline sentence of 15 years was too high and had been “fixed at the higher end of the highest bracket”.
She said there was no level of premeditation in the assault and no weapon was used.
In other cases of this type, where lesser sentences were handed down, weapons had been used and there were elements of premeditation, counsel added.
Although she conceded that her client’s behaviour had been inexcusable and wasn’t seeking “to defend it in any way”, she said that there were several mitigating factors which entitled him to a greater discount to his sentence than the two years he had received.
Ms Lankford said her client had co-operated with the legal process from the outset after his arrest.
Although he does not suffer from any “gross psychiatric disorder”, she said he “does have a psychiatric history, suffers from anxiety and depression, has had suicide attempts and has had contact with counsellors”.
But more significantly, she said O’Driscoll came before the court on a signed plea and had expressed his remorse for his actions.
“Two years [discount] is simply not sufficient in all the circumstances,” she said.
Brendan Kelly BL, for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), said the signed plea had to be “looked at through the lens of the offending”.
Mr Kelly said he accepted that the discount in the sentence was “very, very marginal”, but he asked: “Is it so little as to give rise to an error? I would say no.”
During submissions, Mr Justice John Edwards, presiding, said Mr O’Callaghan’s life had been ruined by the attack.
“It is easy to say sorry once you have wrecked someone’s life,” the judge said.
Mr Justice Edwards also said the court was saddened to hear Mr O’Callaghan has since passed away, adding that his “very poignant” victim impact statement was on the court record.
Judgment has been reserved.
'This breaks my heart'
At O’Driscoll’s sentence hearing, Det Garda Alan O’Sullivan told the court that Mr O’Callaghan was sitting in his car on the night of the assault when O’Driscoll dragged him from his vehicle and started stomping on his head.
He said O’Driscoll, who the court heard had been released from hospital following a psychotic episode, dragged the pensioner from the car and threw him around like a “rag doll”.
In a victim impact statement Christy O’Callaghan said that prior to the crime he led a “nice life.”
“I enjoyed working with greyhounds and attended the greyhound track twice a week. I had made a lot of good friends through the dogs.
"Since I was so badly assaulted my life has totally changed. I have been in hospital since, and I have not been home. Nobody will ever know half of what I suffered.
"You (O’Driscoll) took away my basic human rights. I cannot go to the toilet on my own. I have to be taken by a nurse who is normally female, which to me is embarrassing and degrading. I do not think I will be left home unaccompanied again. This breaks my heart.”