Galway woman who killed partner during drunken row sent back to prison

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Taking into account that Thornton had effectively already served a six-month sentence, the judge said he would activate a period of 16 months from today's date
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Alison O'Riordan

A woman who killed her partner during a drunken row 10 years ago has been sent back to prison for 16 months after she breached the conditions of her suspended sentence.

Mr Justice Paul McDermott said today that there was no "realisation" for the defendant engaging with probation services and stressed that she had been attempting to "negotiate" with the court. "We have gone way past negotiation and the court cannot entertain a negotiation," he remarked.

The judge noted that courts have to ensure that suspended sentences are treated "as what they are" and "sentences served in the community with conditions cannot be served if conditions are broken".

Salthill manslaughter

Maura Thornton (38) from Inverin, Connemara, Co Galway was originally sentenced to 10 years imprisonment with the final three suspended in 2013 after she was found guilty of the manslaughter of her former partner Kevin Joyce (59) outside her apartment in Salthill in Galway on July 3rd, 2011.

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The Central Criminal Court previously heard that Thornton was granted early release in February 2018 but has since breached the conditions of her partly suspended sentence by drinking alcohol.

Ms Thornton told a previous hearing that she "succumbed to the drink" partly out of a feeling of isolation brought on by Covid-19 restrictions. Paul Carroll SC, for the State, previously said that Ms Thornton had "fallen by the wayside in terms of drug and alcohol abuse."

Bench warrant

Last October, a bench warrant was issued for Thornton's arrest after she did not show up to court for Mr Justice McDermott to deal with her failure to adhere to the conditions of her suspended sentence.

The judge sent her back to prison on a later date for two months "to get things under control and stabilise matters" without activating the suspended part of her sentence.

Mr Justice McDermott previously noted that Thornton's life was "chaotic" and needed to be steadied and added that he wanted to impress on her the importance of her re-engagement with probation services and addiction treatment.

Thornton was also refused permission to spend Christmas with her mother last December after the judge said he had a number of concerns. He said he wanted a "structured plan" drawn up for her ongoing treatment and adjourned the case until today to allow that to happen.

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At today's hearing, Blaise O'Carroll SC representing Thornton, said the court had seen his client's latest probation and psychiatric reports. Mr O'Carroll said his client had an option to attend Coolmine Treatment Centre and High Park Residential Rehabilitation Centre.

"She is anxious to take the High Park option as it involves physical exercise, and she feels this is very beneficial to her," said the barrister. However, Mr O'Carroll said High Park would not accept Thornton unless she was "cleared of all" her court appearances.

The court heard there was an outstanding charge against Thornton for breaking into a licensed premises and stealing a bottle of brandy. "She accepts she did it and admitted it to gardaí. It was a choice between "going to the pier" or breaking into the premises," said counsel.

'Serious lapses'

Mr Justice McDermott said that the probation report mentioned that Thornton did not wish to pursue treatment in the immediate future. The judge said there was an obligation on Thornton to comply with the terms of her suspended sentence but "serious lapses" existed. He stressed that following a period of "restraint' by the probation services these conditions had not been complied with and anything less than 100 percent was not acceptable.

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He added: "This lady cannot cope in the community and I don't get the impression that there is any realisation for engagement with the service. It is being negotiated and it is an attempt to negotiate with the court as well. We have gone way past negotiation and the court cannot entertain a negotiation."

Alcohol

Mr Justice McDermott said that alcohol "looms very large" in Thornton's lifestyle and matters have been made worse by her drug-use.

Her compliance with the probation services and attending treatment had gone "considerably awry", he said.

Ultimately, he said, the court had imposed a suspended sentence and had been left in a situation where the terms had been breached. Notwithstanding efforts made by the court "to re-establish a strong supervisory element", he said, this has not proved possible.

The judge said Thornton's case had reached a stage where the court has to ensure that suspended sentences are treated "as what they are" and sentences served in the community with conditions, cannot be served if conditions are broken.

Mr Justice McDermott said that he would not reactivate the fully suspended sentence of three years and would instead activate 22 months.

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Taking into account that Thornton had effectively already served a six-month sentence, the judge said he would activate a period of 16 months from today's date. The court heard that the defendant has been in custody since October 8th last year.

Apartment

During Thornton's Central Criminal Court trial it emerged that her relationship with Mr Joyce had involved heavy drinking. On the night of the killing she had been drinking excessively when Mr Joyce entered the rooftop area of her apartment by climbing up an emergency stairwell.

A stand-off ensued and when Mr Joyce refused to leave Thornton stabbed him 18 times. She called gardaí and said she had stabbed someone but when gardaí arrived they were unable to interview her due to her state of intoxication.

Mr Justice Barry White suspended three years of her sentence to give her an incentive to rehabilitate.

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