A 36-year-old woman has been jailed for 10 years for attempting to murder a civil servant walking home from work in Dublin two years ago. The judge praised the victim, describing her as brave and “lucky that she is still with us”.
Laura Kenna, of no fixed abode, was found guilty by a jury last month of attempting to murder Fionnuala Burke on Lower Drumcondra Road in the capital on January 3rd 2017, and of assault causing serious harm to her on the same occasion.
Kenna had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to both counts, but this was rejected by the verdict of a Central Criminal Court jury on March 5th. It was Kenna's second trial for attempted murder, after a jury failed to reach a verdict last October.
The trial heard that Ms Burke, who worked for the Department of Social Protection, was walking home when she noticed a woman sitting on a wall outside a house. As Ms Burke approached, the woman, Laura Kenna, sprang up and pushed her back onto a grassy area. Kenna didn't say anything, but started to stab her.
Ms Burke felt short stabs and could also feel her face being slashed, before she felt a dramatic slash straight across her neck. Kenna then spoke, telling Ms Burke that she’d let her go if she handed over her handbag.
Kenna later admitted to gardaí: “I sliced her like you would a goat.”
Ms Justice Tara Burns said on Thursday that Kenna’s admissions had been very graphic and had demonstrated an attempt to kill.
She described the attack as vicious, random, horrifying and frightening.
“This was a shocking incident,” she said.
“To be coming home from work at five in the evening in the days after Christmas, that a young woman would be attacked like this, it’s just unimaginable in an ordered society,” she added.
She noted that Ms Burke had provided a victim impact report, which she did not wish to be read in court. The judge said she was “ very impressed” by the victim impact report, which “can only be described as a very restrained report in light of the attack and the very significant and horrendous injuries she sustained.”
She said it was clear that she hadn’t fully recovered from her physical injuries.
“The victim impact report, in a very mild manner, outlines the psychological impact it had on her,” she said.
She added that she was impressed with the “non-contentious manner” in which she had outlined her suffering, including her loss of safety and security.
She said that it was clear that Kenna was suffering from a significant mental health condition at the time, which might have gone untreated for up to six years. She has since been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, needs psychiatric treatment and is currently detained in the Central Mental Hospital.
She said that the jury’s verdict did not mean that she wasn’t suffering from a mental illness at the time. She said that a person may well be suffering from a significant mental illness but still know the nature of their actions, know that their actions are wrong and be able to refrain from them.
She noted that Kenna had come from a good family, but that mental health problems had emerged and she had begun taking drugs. This had complicated both her mental health issues and diagnosis, she said.
She said that a headline sentence of 17 years in prison was appropriate for her crime. However, after having regard to the mitigating factors of remorse, admissions and not requiring the victim to give evidence, she imposed a 15-year term of imprisonment on her.
Kenna’s barrister, Barry White SC, had asked her to suspend all or the major portion of her sentence in light of her mental health issue. Justice Burns said that option was not available to her.
“People with mental health difficulties are also required to act with a moral responsibility,” she said, noting that Kenna had engaged in ‘very normal behaviour’ both before and after the attack.
However, she suspended the last five years on condition she cooperate with a consultant psychiatrist, abide by all treatment regimes and remain drug and alcohol free for the duration of the suspended period.
She said the warrant would issue to The Dochas Centre at Mountjoy Prison but that it was a matter for the Prison Service and the Central Mental Hospital “to resolve that issue between them”.
“Ms Burke, I wish you well in your future life,” said Justice Burns before leaving the bench. “You’re a very brave young woman.”