Man who blinded magician in glass attack 'sorry for being a scumbag'

A man has received a partially suspended sentence of 14 years for a series of knife-point robberies and an attack on a man which left him blind in one eye, write Jessica Magee and Declan Brennan.

Luke Byrne (18) smashed a glass into the face of Mark Beltran (30), a magician from the Philippines who travelled the world with his act, in an altercation over a stolen amplifier.

The victim's injuries left him permanently blind in his right eye. Mr Beltran, who was in court for the hearing, has since lost his eye.

At Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Martin Nolan said that he could accept that Byrne did not intend to blind the victim but that he must have known that serious injuries would result from his actions and he intended to cause these injuries.

He imposed a sentence of nine years for the attack. He made this sentence consecutive to a sentence of five years for a series of “predatory and cold-blooded” knife-point robberies which Byrne carried out on women.

Byrne was on bail for the robbery offences when he carried out the assault and was a juvenile at the time.

Judge Nolan said by reason of his age and in order to allow hope for Byrne's reform he was suspending the last four and a half years of the sentence on condition Byrne kept the peace for the period of the sentence. He also ordered Byrne to comply with the Probation Services for a period of two years after his release.

Byrne of Geraldine St., Phibsboro, Dublin pleaded guilty to assault causing serious harm on O'Connell Street, on September 9, 2016.

He also pleaded guilty to carrying out nine robberies in the Phibsboro area over a seven day period between May 24 and 31, 2016.

Byrne, armed with a knife, would come up from behind the women and threatened them with violence. In some cases Byrne did use violence, kicking and punching victims, the court heard.

Judge Nolan said Byrne's behaviour was “predatory” and the robberies were “cowardly, aggressive and hostile”. He said the effects of his attacks on the women would be long-lasting.

Byrne's attack on Mr Beltan followed a row over a stolen amplifier belonging to the street performer. The amplifier was recovered by friends of Mr Beltan but a group of people, including Byrne, followed these friends and attacked them.

Judge Nolan said that in a seeming act of vengeance, Byrne picked up a pint glass and smashed it with force into the victim's face.

He said that Byrne had “Jekyll and Hyde” characteristics. He was well behaved for periods of time but he had a vicious and cruel streak, which he displayed by putting a knife to the throat of his robbery victims.

He said he accepted that Byrne was genuinely remorseful and said he came from a good family. He said that it was hoped that Byrne would reform himself and not become a menace to society.

“This is a long sentence for a young man but this young man has behaved reprehensibly and cruelly and viciously. It’s hoped this will reform him.

“He certainly needs reform. He has done huge damage to a lot of people,” Judge Nolan said.

Byrne has 16 previous convictions, including assault, criminal damage, public order and road traffic offences.

Byrne told gardaí he didn't know his own motivation for the unprovoked attack on Mr Beltran except that he was “angry and locked and being a dick”.

“I thought I'd be the big man, I hit the busker. I didn't intend to blind him,” Byrne told gardaí, adding that he was sorry for “causing so much pain and being a scumbag”.

In a victim impact statement read out on his behalf in court, Mr Beltran said he could not stop thinking how much better his life would have been had he not decided to come to Dublin.

Mr Beltran said that because of the attack he was now blinded in his right eye, and had no depth perception and limited scope of vision in his left eye.

He had a fear of broken glass and of people walking behind him, had become socially withdrawn and suffered from insecurity, anger, confusion, negative self-image and helplessness.

Mr Beltran said he was now a less efficient entertainer, made less money and could not do as many shows because he had a blind spot which made him bump into people and trip over things.

He said he went to street festivals around the world and did magic shows and juggled for a living, which required sleight-of-hand and hand-eye coordination, but that now he was “terrible at catching and aiming” and had a hard time doing anything and had become a lot slower.

He said his own reflection in the mirror reminded him all the time of the horrible assault.

The court heard that Mr Beltran had been in Ireland for just two days before the assault, which happened after his friends retrieved an amplifier stolen from him while he was performing in the city centre.

Garda John Carroll told Gerardine Small BL, prosecuting, that Mr Beltran had been interacting with a crowd after he finished his magic show in Temple Bar when the amplifier was stolen.

He reported the theft at Pearse Street Garda Station and went for something to eat with a friend when two other friends contacted him and said they had confronted a group of youths and managed to recover the amplifier.

The four friends reunited and were walking towards their B&B accommodation on Parnell Street when they noticed they were being followed by a group of youths, including some women.

Mr Beltran was set upon by six people and struck on his face with an empty pint glass that Byrne had picked up from the street.

Mr Beltran told gardaí he remembered being hit by another person with a closed fist punch to his face, then a second hit when he felt a “shattering” and blood started coming from his face.

Witnesses said the attack was unprovoked and that Byrne then picked up a wooden advertising board from outside the shop and tried to hit Mr Beltran, before the sign was knocked out of his hand.

Mr Beltran was treated at the Mater Hospital by a consultant who said the incident constituted serious harm. He described a deep wound across Mr Beltran's right cornea, iris and pupil, with another injury to his left eye and foreign bodies to both eyes. Mr Beltran was unable to count his fingers with his right eye.

He spent 11 days in hospital, underwent surgery and requires regular medical visits and the constant use of eyedrops.

The Director of Public Prosecutions described the offence as in the “high range” of seriousness.

Garda Daniel Keaney told the court that all of the robberies committed by Byrne involved confronting women alone and sometimes with an accomplice, threatening them with a knife and robbing their handbags or phones.

Byrne pleaded guilty to all bar one of the robberies and gardaí accepted that he seemed “at a loss” to understand his own motivation for violence.

Fiona Murphy BL, defending, said Byrne was “genuinely horrified” at his actions and wished to issue a “full and unreserved apology” to all his victims.

She described Byrne's parents as “hardworking, decent people” who were “absolutely appalled by his carry on” but very supportive of him.

The court heard Byrne was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 10 and that his parents separated when he was young.

Michael O'Higgins SC, also defending, said Byrne left school early and started dabbling in cannabis, amphetamines and ecstasy and hanging out with people “who were not good role models”.

Mr O'Higgins said the incident involving Mr Beltran had lasted about a minute but left effects that would “last a lifetime”.

“Regrettably, a visitor to this country, who comes to work and bring enjoyment through his work in street theatre...gets a glass in the face,” Mr O'Higgins said.

The court heard there had been “mammoth efforts” to deal with Byrne's case before he turned 18 last September while he could still be dealt with as a child, but this had not been possible.

Positive reports were presented from Oberstown Children's Detention Campus, which said Byrne was willing to use his time in custody to further his education.

“This is not a hardened criminal, this is not a person with sociopathic difficulties,” Mr O'Higgins said, adding that Byrne had “stabilised himself” since the offences took place.



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