Man guilty of father's manslaughter

 

A 23-year-old Tipperary man has been jailed for 18 months for killing his father with a spade.

James McInerney of Lacey Avenue, Templemore was found not guilty of murdering his father but guilty of his manslaughter following an eight-day trial at the Central Criminal Court.

The defendant had described James ‘Jimmy’ McInerney (56) as ‘the most evil man you could have met’. He said his father had spent 25 years beating his wife and family.

The dead man’s widow described her husband as a ‘bad man’ and told the court that she probably wouldn’t be alive were it not for her son’s protection.

The defendant had pleaded not guilty to murdering his father at the family home on June 17th, 2009. He argued that the beating was reasonable self defence as his father was about to beat him with the spade before he took it from him.

McInerney told gardaí that his drunken father was shouting abuse at his family from the back yard that evening. He was banging the door of the house with a shovel, calling the defendant outside. This story was backed up by neighbours.

The accused said he ignored his father for a while and had earlier walked away from him when he called him handicapped and yellow. However, he went outside when he heard glass break in the yard.

“I flipped out in a rage. I was sick of it. I wasn’t able for anymore,” he said. “I saw my father with the spade in his hand after breaking the window in my van.”

He said he grabbed the spade out of his father’s hand as he swung it at him. He said he hit him in the head with it and the older man fell to his knees. He hit him another couple of times in his head and gut, he said.

State pathologist Prof Marie Cassidy said the victim died of blunt trauma to his head, with blunt trauma to his chest and abdomen a contributory cause. She said brain damage resulting from a skull fracture could have caused his death, as could inhalation of blood in his mouth.

A crush injury to his liver and cracked ribs would have been painful, she explained, adding that there was no evidence of defensive injuries, meaning it was a swift attack.

She said that the single blow to the top of the skull was most likely to be inflicted when he was on the ground.

The accused said he threw the spade away after beating his father.

“I knew I’d gone too far. It was too late,” he said. “If I didn’t put Daddy down, he’d have put me down. I also wanted to protect my family.”

The defendant told gardaí that although he hated his father, he hadn’t wanted to kill him because he didn’t want to go to prison.

“It’s a relief to me, even if I am going to jail, knowing that my mother will have peace,” he added.

The primary defence case was that there was no unlawful killing, one of the elements of murder, because the killing was committed in reasonable self defence. However, the seven men and five women of the jury did not accept this.

The defence’s secondary position was that he was guilty of only manslaughter on one of three grounds: a lack of intent, self defence with unreasonable force or provocation. The jury was not asked on which of these basis the verdict of manslaughter was decided.

The jury reached its unanimous decision after deliberating for over six hours. Brendan Grehan SC, defending, asked for sentencing to proceed straight away.

More than a dozen gardaí were in court for the sentencing, with the defendant’s mother and siblings on one side of the room and the deceased’s siblings and extended family on the other. Mr Justice John Edwards had earlier warned that any disturbance would be dealt with as contempt of court and dealt with severely.

Mr Grehan asked the judge to take into account the tragic circumstances of the case.

“I ask the court to temper with mercy the penalty it feels it has to impose,” he said. “It’s always recognised that the crime of patricide carries with it its own penalty, that the person has to live with it for the rest of his life.”

Mr Justice Edwards said the deceased was entitled to his life and not to be killed and was deprived of that opportunity. He said this case was neither at the most minimal nor most serious level of manslaughter and would probably attract a sentence of six years without considering personal circumstances.

He did not believe there were any gross aggravating circumstances but mentioned a number of mitigating factors.

“I accept without question the genuineness of Mr McInerney Jnr’s remorse because I’ve had the opportunity of observing his demeanour,” he said.

He agreed with Mr Grehan that patricide was a special case. “Whatever difficulties, there’s always a special bond between a parent and child,” he said. “I recognise it is a special burden for him.”

The judge said he couldn’t ignore that the defendant had a difficult life with extraordinary adversities, including physical injuries. “I have reports going back two decades that document the difficulties that existed in the home where he grew up,” he said.

“One of the features to his credit is that he was required to take on the role of an adult in the family from a very early age,” he continued. “The evidence is overwhelming that he was extremely supportive of his mother and siblings and maintained that support while he tried to maintain a relationship with his father.”

He said the defendant’s criminal record for public order offences related to intoxication and he was satisfied that the night of the killing was completely out of character for him. He said the accused had been doing his best to walk a tightrope in difficult circumstances. “What occurred on this night was an eruption after many years of difficulties,” he said.

The judge decided that there was enough mitigation in this ‘unusual, exceptional and extraordinary’ case to reduce the sentence to 18 months.

He noted that McInerney had already spent six months in prison after being charged and said that this 18 months would run from now.