Two sons convicted on charges relating to the death of their mother were given suspended sentences by a judge at the Central Criminal Court yesterday. Kieran O'Brien (23) was convicted last month of the manslaughter of his mother Mrs Julia O'Brien (44) at their home in High Street, Drimoleague, Co Cork on December 24th, 1995, and of injuring and assaulting her.
A second son, Noel O'Brien (22) was convicted of injuring his mother and of common assault.
Both brothers and the woman's husband, Mr Joseph O'Brien (49), were cleared after a three-week trial last month of murdering Mrs O'Brien.
During the trial the court heard that Mrs Julia O'Brien was found "bloodied and battered" at 3 a.m. on Christmas Eve morning in the sitting room of the family's terraced house.
The court was told that six of her ribs had been broken, she had at least 17 bruises to her head and neck and 21 separate injuries to her back and limbs - and that the "overwhelming" cause of death was manual strangulation, for which Kieran O'Brien admitted responsibility. The jury also heard that Mrs O'Brien has a long history of alcoholism and that she had been killed after a family row.
Sentencing the two O'Brien brothers yesterday, Mr Justice Quirke said he imposed suspended sentences "in particular because it is the expressed wish of the family of Julia O'Brien and it is a deciding feature in this sentence".
Mr Justice Quirke imposed a seven-year suspended sentence on Kieran O'Brien for manslaughter, a four-year suspended sentence for actual bodily harm and 12 months suspended for common assault. Noel O'Brien was sentenced to four years' imprisonment suspended for occasioning actual bodily harm and 12 months' suspended for assault contrary to common law.
The two brothers were bound over to keep the peace on their own bonds of £500 pounds each.
Mr Justice Quirke said his reasons for passing non-custodial sentences were that he believed both men "posed no threat to society" and that they would not reoffend, but the "deciding feature" was the "expressed wish of the immediate family" that the brothers would not be sent to prison.
Addressing Kieran O'Brien, Mr Justice Quirke said the jury had found him guilty of unlawfully killing his mother, of assault causing actual bodily harm and of assaulting her contrary to common law.
He said he had given "careful consideration" to the submissions of his counsel, Mr Patrick Gageby SC, and he believed Kieran O'Brien had "suffered great deprivation and unhappiness".
He cited the benefit he had been to his brother Noel and sister Miriam, saying it had been "a trying time in your lives and I will take that into account".
He said, however, that many families suffer "great difficulties in this jurisdiction" and what Kieran O'Brien did "could not ever be seen to be excused or condoned".
Mr Justice Quirke said O'Brien had admitted kicking his mother as she lay on the floor and she sustained a "protracted and vicious assault".
He said in the "heat of passion" a person might strike another "blindly", which might be "understood", but "this crime is not of this kind".
Mr Justice Quirke said he took it into consideration that Kieran O'Brien had no previous convictions, had never been in trouble before and favourable things had been said about him by his employer, his neighbours and friends.
The "deciding feature in this sentence" however, was that the "immediate family" had an "expressed wish" that the brothers receive non-custodial sentences.
Addressing Noel O'Brien, Mr Justice Quirke said he was guilty of assaulting Mrs Julia O'Brien and occasioning actual bodily harm and assaulting her contrary to common law.
He said he believed he had suffered "deprivation and great unhappiness for seven years" before his mother's death but said he believed he "did not appreciate the condition with which your mother suffered was indeed an illness".
"No amount of hurt or resentment" could condone that Noel O'Brien had attacked his mother as she "lay defenceless on the floor," for "quite a significant period of time".
He said what Noel O'Brien did "could never be condoned or justified" but that he "posed no threat to society" and he believed O'Brien would "not reoffend again". The deciding feature in suspending his sentence was again the "expressed wish of the immediate family".
Before Mr Justice Quirke handed down sentences, a brother of the dead woman, Mr Dan Twomey, told the court that his sister, Mrs Julia O'Brien, had had a "chronic drink problem" which "caused problems" in the home.
He said that having discussed the matter with the dead woman's parents, the family would "like to get the chance to have Noel and Kieran to visit the grave" of their mother and they "would be wishing for non-custodial sentences".