A then-teenager who stabbed college student Cameron Blair to death, “extinguishing the life of a decent and upstanding young man,” has failed in a bid to reduce the severity of his life sentence with a review after 13 years.
The Court of Appeal found that the trial judge had properly taken into account the defendant’s lack of maturity, had set a sentence that was proportionate and had sufficient regard for mitigating factors identified by the defence.
The three-judge court also dismissed a claim that by placing the review at 13 years, the judge had deprived the defendant of the right to apply for parole after serving twelve years.
Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, delivering the judgment, said murder is “one of the most serious offences in our statute books”. She said the defendant in this case was aged 17 years and eight months at the time of this “terrible offence, extinguishing the life of a decent and upstanding young man; a young man who did nothing but seek to restore peace to a situation which was not of his making. This appellant’s actions deprived this young man of his life, and took him away from his loving parents, family and friends.”
She described as “shocking and deliberate” his conduct in arming himself, displaying the knife and tapping it on his leg while laughing before delivering the fatal blow. “His actions were cowardly and callous,” she said.
The casual but deliberate use of knives requires deterrence, the judge said, and people are “entitled to socialise without the fear that an individual may decide to have recourse to a deadly weapon.
“The fact that this appellant appeared to have no hesitation in displaying the knife as he did by tapping it against his leg prior to the vicious attack, is most concerning,” the judge added.
Ms Justice Kennedy said that the trial judge, Mr Justice Paul McDermott, made a careful assessment of all the facts with “conspicuous care and diligence, taking account of all material factors.”
She said no error in principle had been identified, the sentence was not outside the range available to the judge and it was not excessive or disproportionate. The offender, at just four months shy of his 18th birthday, was not a “very young child,” she said, and the sentencing judge did take due consideration of his age and other mitigating factors, including his guilty plea and remorse.
In relation to the complaint that the offender has been deprived of his right to apply for parole after twelve years, Ms Justice Kennedy said that the parole board will still be able to consider his eligibility for parole.
The purpose of the review, she said, is to enable a court to oversee the offender’s detention and have “particular regard for his rehabilitation and reintegration into society.” As part of the review process, the court will be able to review the offender’s progress during his detention and consider whether release into the community would be appropriate at a later date.
While the parole board may be influenced by the 13-year-review, Ms Justice Kennedy said his right to apply for parole “has not been ousted”.
The Court of Appeal will decide at a later date whether the anonymity of the accused remains in place considering he is now aged 21 years and is no longer a minor under the law.
Last month Karl Finnegan SC submitted to the three-judge court that Mr Justice McDermott had not sufficiently taken his client’s immaturity and “dysfunctional background” into account when passing sentence. Anne Rowland SC, for the DPP, argued that the sentencing judge took “significant” account of the mitigating factors in the case.
In March 2020 at the Central Criminal Court, the appellant pleaded guilty to murdering 20-year-old chemical engineering student Cameron Blair at a house on Bandon Road in Cork City on January 16th, 2020. At a sentencing hearing in April 2020, Detective Garda Martin Canny of Togher Garda Station told prosecution counsel Ms Rowland that Mr Blair was a keen sportsman and played rugby with Bandon Rugby Football Club.
Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date