Man jailed for five years for manslaughter of young musician

McGrath was on bail in relation to another unprovoked attack at the time

Photograph: Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES

Photograph: Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES


A young man who killed a talented musician in an unprovoked attack on the street while he was on bail for another assault has been jailed for five years for manslaughter.

Craig McGrath (26) of Rathfaddan Park in Waterford city was on bail in relation to another unprovoked attack in a nightclub the previous year, when he punched musician Damien O’Brien (28) at least twice in the head in the early hours of July 7th last.

Mr O’Brien sustained a broken eye socket, broken nose and broken jaw as a result of the punches but was unconscious as he fell and was fatally injured when he hit his head off the ground.

He was taken to University Hospital Waterford after the incident, and transferred to Cork University Hospital for specialist neurological treatment. However, he died on July 13th.

Damien O’Brien’s sister Sandra wept as she read a victim impact statement on behalf of the family, and spoke of how Damien was devastated when her own 14-year-old daughter Cora died the previous Christmas after having a cardiac arrest. Damien had attempted to save her.

She asked Judge Eugene O’Kelly to impose “a strict sentence” on Craig McGrath, who she said had been released on bail after his arrest while her brother lay in hospital.

“The image of Damien lying there fighting for his life will never leave us,” she said. “We were in severe shock and hoping for a miracle.”

She described Damien as a happy, healthy, talented young man who cherished his family and as a gentle soul who could never do enough for people. “He lit up the lives of everyone around him.”

What tore the family apart was “the vicious manner his life was torn from him,” Sandra said.

“Damian was the least violent young man you could ever imagine... On the night he was attacked he had been playing music with friends, his absolute passion in life. He loved entertaining people.”

The court heard that Damian, originally from Kilmacow in Co Kilkenny but living in Waterford city with his girlfriend Catherine Smith, had played a gig at The Hub in Waterford with his band Chimpanbee and was on his way home with Catherine at about 2.50am when the attack occurred.

A post-mortem examination indicated that Damian O’Brien died as a result of brain stem haemorrhage and traumatic brain injury due to blunt force trauma to the head. He had been punched twice, first with a right fist and then a left fist in quick succession.

The court heard that the previous August 18th, a Kiefer Dowling was in a nightclub in Waterford when Craig McGrath attempted to grab his phone. McGrath then headbutted Mr Dowling and struck him and, after the two of them were ordered off the premises, again punched him outside.

Mr McGrath was subsequently charged with assault causing harm and granted bail in the district court and was on bail when he fatally assaulted Damien O’Brien.

Judge Eugene O’Kelly, in Waterford Circuit Court, put the manslaughter in the lower-to-middle level of the medium range of such offences and aggravating factors included the fact that Craig McGrath was on bail at the time for a similar-type offence.

He imposed a five-year prison sentence for the manslaughter and a consecutive two and a half years for the assault, suspending two years of the latter sentence, leaving a net sentence of five and a half years.

Some members of Damien O’Brien’s family walked out of the courtroom upon hearing the sentence, describing it as “a disgrace” and saying “no justice in this country”.

After the sentencing hearing, Minister of State John Halligan, a friend of the O’Brien family, said he favoured legislation dealing with “one-punch attacks” which led to deaths. “There’s an innocent man dead, an unprovoked assault, and I think judges should be weighing up the death of an innocent man against the sentences they make in one-punch attacks,” he told reporters.