Teen sentenced to 7½ years for killing Azzam Raguragui in Dundrum

Azzam was the light of the house, the brightness in every room, his father tells court

 

The teenage killer who stabbed 18-year-old Azzam Raguragui to death during a fight over a stolen bicycle has been sentenced to seven-and-a-half years’ detention.

Mr Justice Paul McDermott delivered the sentence on Monday after hearing emotional statements from the deceased’s parents Hajiba and Abdul and his cousin Younes Talibi.

Azzam’s parents Hajiba and Abdul said they wanted to do something good for their communities when they moved to Ireland and are proud of what their children have achieved.

Hajiba repeatedly asked why her “kind” son was taken from her in an argument over a bicycle, “something cheap”. She said she wants justice for her “loving, kind, gentle, well-behaved, faithful and loyal son” and accused her son’s killer of having “no regard for human life”.

Abdul said that he can’t get the image out of his head of the killer on CCTV celebrating and “high-fiving” with friends after the fatal attack. He added: “In addition to losing my son in a heinous crime I also lost myself, my wife and two kids as we have never been the same.”

The 17-year-old defendant, who cannot be identified because he is a minor, was found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter by a jury in September. He had previously offered to plead guilty to manslaughter but the Director of Public Prosecutions rejected the plea. His mother, father and brother joined the defendant for a group hug after the judge delivered his sentence.

The victim, Azzam Raguragui (18), died after the defendant stabbed him five times during a melee in Finsbury Park, Dundrum, Dublin 14 on May 10th, 2019. The trial heard that one of the wounds severed an artery and caused massive blood loss which led to his death.

Mr Justice McDermott on Monday said that the jury’s verdict means the prosecution had not proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused inflicted the fatal wound after Mr Raguragui fell to the ground having tried to run away from the fight. He said the fatal wound was inflicted in the midst of a violent and frightening fight involving two groups of teenagers and that the accused believed he was acting in self-defence or in defence of his friends.

However, the judge said that the accused brought the knife, adding: “Any person who equips themselves with a dangerous weapon like this and uses it in the circumstances described can only expect a court to view that as a seriously aggravating factor.” A further aggravating factor was his failure to seek assistance although he knew he had repeatedly stabbed and wounded Mr Raguragui. He showed a “callous disregard to the predicament of the deceased at the time,” the judge said. He also noted that the defendant pursued Mr Raguragui having already inflicted the fatal wound, and assaulted him in a “cowardly” way while Mr Raguragui lay in the foetal position on the ground.

He further pointed to the defendant’s attempt to dispose of evidence by throwing away the knife and CCTV footage which showed him assembling with friends shortly afterwards where “he does not appear to be in any way shocked or to regret what he had done. He did not know at that stage that the wounds were fatal, but what he had done was in any view shocking and disturbing.”

Mitigating factors included his early guilty plea, co-operation with gardaí in helping them to retrieve the knife and his young age at the time of the offence.

In his statement Abdul Raguragui broke down frequently as he described how proud he is of his eldest son, a “caring and loving” boy with a “great personality” who supported his parents and siblings. He said: “He was handsome, athletic, funny, honest and truly enjoyed his life. He had a lot of friends who witnessed his respect and kindness.”

He added: The first thing everyone would notice about Azzam was his smile. I never remember him without that smile, he was the light of the house. The brightness in every room. But suddenly that brightness is now gone.”

He said he is haunted by his son’s final moments, “a short, sharp knife shredding his body,” and by the CCTV footage showing his son’s killer celebrating and “high-fiving” with friends after the fatal assault.

“His precious life can never be returned,” he said. “His chair will always be empty around our dinner table. I will have to take my wife and kids to an empty graveyard with only memories left of a kind and faithful and loyal son with a smile that I won’t get to see any more.” He said he still has sleepless nights and will never forget the way “an innocent boy was tortured and murdered”.

Mrs Raguragui said it is hard to talk about her loss, adding: “Azzam was always a loving, kind, gentle, well-behaved, faithful and loyal son who comes from an excellent family, well respected in the Muslim community and in Irish society. His friends named him ‘Smiley’ as he always had a beautiful smile on his face.”

He supported people in need, she said, volunteering to work with elderly people in his neighbourhood and even clearing their driveways of ice and snow during the winter. She described seeing Azzam in hospital, “covered in blood from head to toe. I couldn’t believe that was my handsome son.” She wondered how she would tell her family that her innocent son was dead. She asked: “Who can do that? It’s not a human, it’s an evil because he didn’t do anything wrong.”

She said that her dream when she came to Ireland was that her children would succeed and she is proud of what they have achieved. But Azzam’s dreams have all gone away. She said words cannot express the depth of her family’s loss, adding: “It’s hard for a mum to bury a son.”

“It’s not fair,” she said. “Why? he didn’t do anything wrong.”

The trial had heard that earlier on the day of the fight in Finsbury Park there was a confrontation between Azzam and friends of the accused. It was alleged that someone in the accused’s group had stolen a bike and some of the accused’s friends said that Azzam threatened one of them.

The accused’s friends then met at a house in what prosecution counsel James Dwyer SC said was preparation for the later confrontation. In a statement to gardaí one of the boys present at the house said that the accused had the knife on him at that point. He told gardaí that the boy showed the knife around and asked him to look after it and give it back later. The same boy told gardaí that as they entered Finsbury Park and saw members of the other group, the accused asked for the knife back.

In his evidence before the court the witness changed his story, saying that the accused didn’t know anything about the knife until they were entering Finsbury Park. He said the accused took the knife off him so that they wouldn’t get into trouble.

The trial heard from members of both groups who were caught up in the melee that led to Azzam Raguragui’s death. There was general agreement that the two groups met at Finsbury Park coming up to 8pm and there was a discussion that went on for 10 to 15 minutes without incident. There was talk about the stolen bike but no violence, aggression or threats.

When another member of the accused’s group, who was the subject of the alleged earlier threat by Azzam, arrived the atmosphere changed. Each side had a different story about what happened next. Azzam’s friends insisted that violence broke out after the newcomer punched Azzam in the forehead. The accused’s defence denied this and pointed to a pathologist’s report which showed no sign of blunt force trauma to Azzam’s forehead.

The accused, in a statement to gardai, said that Azzam “started the whole thing” and was the “ringleader” while the accused’s friends said the fight broke out after a member of Azzam’s group punched one of their group and kicked him when he fell to the ground.

Azzam’s friends said that during the fight they saw Azzam run up a slope and fall to the ground. At about that moment they heard a shout of “knife” and said they saw the accused run after the deceased and stab him while he lay on the ground.

Defence counsel Michael Bowman SC questioned the credibility of these accounts, suggesting that Azzam’s friends made up this part of the story in a bid to get justice for their deceased friend. Mr Bowman said the pathologist had agreed that the injuries suffered by Azzam could have been caused while he was standing up and he pointed out that three independent witnesses who were walking through the park did not see anyone being stabbed on the ground.

Patrick Lynch, Jacinta Milton and their daughter Irena Lynch were walking through Finsbury Park that evening and saw the fight. Jacinta Milton described the fighting as “nasty” and said she saw one of the teenagers running up a slope while a smaller boy ran behind him. The taller boy, she said, ended up on the ground and the smaller boy “got on top of him and they were really nasty kind of fighting.”

Irena Lynch said she and her parents were just a few metres away when the boys “rushed into the park”. They were loud and boisterous, she said, and began to split into different groups. She saw one youth run up to a grass area where he stumbled and fell. She saw a few other boys standing over him and one of them was “in a threatening position standing over him” while the person on the ground was in the foetal position.

Patrick Lynch told Mr Dwyer that he and his wife and daughter were walking when they heard a noise and saw a “crowd of young lads chasing across the green.” Fighting broke out, he said, and “one young lad fell to the ground and a couple of lads were violently kicking this young lad.”

He told his wife and daughter that they should leave and as they walked on he saw one of the boys running and falling while another youngster stood in a “threatening anticipating” way.

Mr Bowman said that the one thing all three descriptions had in common was that none of them saw anyone being stabbed on the ground. Mr Bowman said his client believed he was acting in self defence during a “terrifying brawl” that broke out after one of Azzam’s friends punched the accused’s friend and then “kicked him around on the ground”.

In his charge to the jury Mr Justice McDermott said that if the jury found that the accused honestly believed that he was acting in self-defence but used more force than a reasonable person would consider necessary then he should be found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter. He further told the jury that if the force used in inflicting the wounds was the result of a planned attack, or due to anger or retaliation then the defence of self-defence is not open to him.

Acting State Pathologist Dr Linda Mulligan told the trial that she found four stab wounds on the deceased and a superficial wound also caused by the knife. The fatal wound to the chest severed the subclavian artery causing massive blood loss, collapse and death within a short period. The other injuries, she said, contributed to his death through blood loss.