A violent burglar who carried out a knife-point home invasion in Sligo that involved "gratuitous" criminal damage and left the residents with "significant psychological trauma" after threats were made against their lives has had his jail sentence increased by the Court of Appeal.
John McDonagh and a teenage accomplice broke into a house in Sligo town in January 2020 and threatened four people with a knife before destroying property and slashing the tyres of a car parked outside, which McDonagh also attacked with a kettle.
The occupants of the house were threatened with death by McDonagh if they contacted the gardaí during the ordeal, which occurred in the early hours of January 28th, 2020.
Both McDonagh (27) of Brookfield, Ballinode, Sligo, and his accomplice pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary and burglary at a house at Glencarrig, Ballinode, and were sentenced in March of last year.
Sligo Circuit Criminal Court judge Francis Comerford sentenced both men to five-and-a-half years in jail with the final two years suspended for three years.
The court heard that four occupants returned to the house after a night out and that about 5am a female in the house heard knocking at the front door.
While wielding knives, McDonagh and the other male entered the property and began making threats demanding money before smashing a television, punching holes in the wall and slashing a couch and a mattress.
At the sentence hearing, Judge Comerford commended the victims for going to gardaí despite the threats of "extreme violence" against them.
On Tuesday at the three-judge Court of Appeal, Leo Mulrooney BL, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, said the sentencing judge had taken an "anodyne approach" and that McDonagh's sentence had been unduly lenient. Mr Mulrooney said that while both men had received identical sentences the other male had since died.
Mr Mulrooney said the sentencing judge erred when describing the offences as "being so sufficiently chaotic and brazen, towards irrational" that they were "unplanned" and should be categorised in the mid-range of offences.
Mr Mulrooney told the court that the DPP had "no issue" with the two years of the sentence that were suspended but had an issue with seven years' imprisonment being identified as a pre-mitigation headline sentence.
Mr Mulrooney said the two men wore latex gloves during the incident which showed "some degree of planning". "It's not like two drunk men fell into a house and burgled it. Far from it," he said.
The barrister said that the two men used the threat of violence and caused "gratuitous" criminal damage to the property. He said the victims had suffered a "significant psychological trauma" and that one occupant had to "completely readjust their life".
He said that the offences were in the upper range of offending and said a headline sentence between nine and 14 years should have been identified.
Desmond Dockery SC, for McDonagh, said the sentencing judge had been "very careful and conscientious" in structuring the punishment imposed.
'Explicit' threat to kill
Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly asked Mr Dockery if there was an "explicit" threat to kill those in the house if they went to gardaí and was told "yes".
Mr Dockery said the sentencing judge noted that the house was not in a rural area and that the inhabitants were not vulnerable people, which would have aggravated matters.
Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy said that if someone was woken up by a trespasser with a knife they could be described as being in a vulnerable position.
Ms Justice Donnelly said the violence used on the night in the slashing of the couch and the damaging of property was "utterly gratuitous".
Mr Dockery said the sentencing judge was operating within his discretion in sentencing the pair for the "unplanned, brazen and chaotic" incident, noting that neither male wore any face coverings and were known to the inhabitants as neighbours.
Mr Dockery said his client, a father of two, was a prisoner of "enhanced" status in Castlerea Prison, who had attended counselling and drug treatment. He said McDonagh was awaiting a place in Coolmine rehabilitation centre.
Delivering the court's judgment, Ms Justice Kennedy said that one of the men in the house awoke to find two males in his bedroom demanding his wallet and that victims had been "petrified" by the death threats. She said that McDonagh had stabbed the television before taking car keys and going outside. There, McDonagh slashed all the car's tyres and began hitting it with a kettle taken from the house.
Ms Justice Kennedy said the victims were exposed to a "horror one can only imagine" that had a "severe" impact on them.
In agreeing the sentence to be unduly lenient, she said the court would quash the previous sentence and substitute a sentence of seven years with the final 18 months suspended for two years. The sentence was backdated to August 1st, 2020, when McDonagh was first taken into custody.