13-year sentence for setting fire in which girl died

Wed, Jun 20, 2012, 01:00

A SLIGO man who killed a five-year old when he set fire to her house has been jailed for 13 years.

John Lynch, originally from Sligo, of Church View, Boyle, Co Roscommon, where he lived with his girlfriend, also received two eight-year concurrent sentences for arson and causing serious harm.

Lynch, who has 17 previous convictions, including assault and possession of a shotgun, pleaded guilty to the three charges.

Mari Keane-Connolly (5) from Termon Road, Boyle, died in the early hours of October 3rd last year after her house was turned into “an inferno”.

Roscommon Circuit Court heard last week how Lynch set fire to the house in a bid to exact revenge on the child’s uncle, John Connolly, whom he had found lying on a bed, fully clothed, with his girlfriend Anita O’Hara, following a party on August 21st.

Lynch, who was described by Judge Anthony Hunt as being “violent, with an angry disposition”, continued to be in a rage over the incident.

On October 2nd, while celebrating his birthday with an alcohol and cocaine binge, Lynch tried to assault Mr Connolly in a nightclub in Carrick-on-Shannon, after he had tried to sort out their differences.

Lynch was still angry when he went home with Ms O’Hara and assaulted her, using a steel curtain pole to beat her, breaking her jaw and inflicting other injuries.

Lynch then left the house and drove a kilometre away where he entered the Connolly house and set it on fire at about 2.30am. Mr Connolly, the target of his rage, was not at home and the front door had been left open for him.

Richard Connolly was asleep upstairs in his house. His three daughters – Lauren (8), Naomi (7) and Mari – were staying with him as his ex-partner, Teresa Keane, was in hospital giving birth to twins that weekend.

The court heard how Mr Connolly managed to get the children out on to a roof but that he suffered serious spinal injuries when he jumped in the darkness as he landed on concrete steps. This prevented him from getting the children down.

He managed to persuade Lauren and Naomi to jump on top of him but Mari was too afraid and went back inside the house. The court was told that her body was found shortly after 5am.

Judge Hunt said that the child was conscious and aware of what was happening before she died in the fire.

“The depths of terror in her final moments defy imagination,” Judge Hunt added.

He said the Connolly family would be mentally scarred for life.

He had not come across a case like it in 26 years on the bench. He dismissed Lynch’s claim that he did not know anyone was in the house.

Judge Hunt said that if Lynch had even “stopped for one second to think about his actions”, the death of a little child could have been prevented, but he “ploughed on” in his bid to extract some form of retribution for what was essentially a trivial matter.

Judge Hunt said there was evidence that an accelerant was used to start the blaze but he said that none was needed to start one in a domestic house which, he noted, was full of likely accelerants.

Judge Hunt said that Lynch’s actions were at the upper end of an unlawful killing charge. He said that previous sentences handed out to Lynch had had no effect.

Judge Hunt said he could not impose the maximum 18-year sentence because of mitigation, which included a guilty plea and remorse.

He sentenced Lynch to 13 years on the manslaughter charge, eight years for causing serious harm to Richard Connolly and eight years for arson, with all three sentences to run concurrent, backdated to October 13th last year.

Abuse was shouted at Lynch as he was led away to start his sentence at Castlerea Prison.