Woman's killer gets 15 years and life sentence


A man jailed in connection with a brutal assault on two women in Cork city, in which one died, must serve a 15-year sentence for attempted murder before he begins a life sentence for the murder of the dead woman, the Court of Criminal Appeal has directed.

The case prompted the father of the dead woman, Ms Nicola Sweeney (20), to issue a plea yesterday for judges to specify a minimum term to be served when imposing the mandatory life sentence for murder.

Mr John Sweeney said the present system of life sentencing was "farcical".

Peter Whelan (20) of Ashgrove, Underwood, Rochestown, Cork, was jailed for life at the Central Criminal Court last December for the murder of student Ms Sweeney at her home at Underwood House, Rochestown, on April 27th last year.

He received an additional 15-year sentence, to be served consecutively, for the attempted murder of Ms Sinéad O'Leary, a student friend, on the same day. He had pleaded guilty on both counts.

In the Court of Criminal Appeal yesterday, Mr David Goldberg SC, for Whelan, said he was seeking no reduction in the sentence but had brought the case on a legal point as the sentencing was unclear.

He argued it was unlawful to impose a consecutive sentence, as life meant imprisonment for life, and that sentence remained until the convicted person died.

A person sentenced to life could only come out of prison on licence, he said.

The proper order made in the Central Criminal Court should have been a concurrent sentence, he argued.

He believed the sentence was wrong in principle and he knew of no case in which it had happened. Mr George Bermingham SC, for the DPP, opposed the application and said the sentence demonstrated no error in principle.

Mr Justice Hardiman, sitting with Mr Justice Quirke and Mr Justice McKechnie, said the court was of the view there was some substance in Mr Goldberg's arguments and the court would reverse the order of sentencing.

This would mean Whelan would serve the 15-year sentence first, to be followed by the life term.

The judge stressed there was nothing disproportionate about the 15-year sentence imposed for the attempted murder of Ms O'Leary. The attack on her was of the utmost savagery.

Mr Sweeney asked the court to have a look at the system of life sentencing which, he believed, was "farcical".

Mr Justice Hardiman said it was not for the court to undertake that work and urged Mr Sweeney to take the matter up elsewhere.

Mr Goldberg said he wished to appeal against the court's ruling on the grounds that it raised a point of exceptional public importance. The judge said counsel should put his reasons in writing.

Evidence was given in the Central Criminal Court that Nicola and Sinéad were in Nicola's house preparing to go out at about 11 p.m. on April 27th last year when Sinéad saw a man whom she did not know approaching her.

She was knocked to the ground, kicked and punched. She screamed to Nicola for help. Whelan took out a knife and Sinéad received multiple stab wounds all over her body. Whelan then left her and she ran downstairs and locked herself in a downstairs bathroom where she stayed in the dark.

A short time later, she went back upstairs and found Nicola on the floor unconscious.