By David Raleigh
A man has been jailed for eleven years with the final three years suspended after "savagely" beating a "quiet and gentle" man, leaving him in a permanently disabled state and later attempting to burgle the home of an elderly bachelor.
Patrick Phelan, aged 24, of Galvone Road, Kennedy Park, Limerick, pleaded guilty to recklessly causing serious harm to Thomas Ryan at Kennedy Park on July 10, 2013, contrary to Section Four of the Non Fatal Offences Against the Person Act.
While on bail for the "vicious" assault on Thomas Ryan, Phelan broke into a 64-year-old bachelor's home and threatened him while demanding cash.
The court heard the occupant of the house lived alone and had breathing difficulties and that Phelan pushed him onto his bed and knelt on his chest demanding money.
Phelan fled after the man managed to push a panic alarm.
Phelan was sentenced to eight years for the attack on Mr Ryan and received a consecutive three-year sentence for the attempted burglary.
The court suspended the consecutive three-year sentence for a period of three years from the date of Phelan's release.
Judge Tom O'Donnell described the attack on Thomas Ryan, 61, as "a savage and vicious unprovoked assault on an innocent man, which led to catastrophic injuries".
Phelan admitted kicking Mr Ryan about the head several times after he met him walking home in the early hours of July 10, 2013.
Mr Ryan had been arrested for his own safety earlier in the evening after he had been found in an intoxicated state.
He had been released from custody and was walking home when he was set upon by Phelan.
After the attack Mr Ryan's life completely changed, Limerick Circuit Court heard.
Judge O'Donnell extended his sympathies to the Ryan family.
He said the attack on the victim left him "incontinent and unable to feed himself".
Mr Ryan died 18 months later in a nursing home from pneumonia and other health complications.
His mother died of a stroke, which the Ryan family believed was due to the massive stress of seeing her son's slow demise following the attack.
Judge O'Donnell said the attack on Mr Ryan left a "severe impact" on the entire family.
A medical report on Mr Ryan's injuries stated he suffered two skull fractures and two brain haemorrhages as a result of blunt force trauma to his head.
Judge O'Donnell said that following the attack Mr Ryan was left unable to communicate properly and "disorientated to time, place, and persons".
"Every chance of independence was taken from him. He was not able to fend for himself (afterwards) and he suffered a slow demise," the judge said.
The court heard that after the attack while he was living in a nursing home the only question he would ask was "When am I going home?".
Speaking outside the court, a sister of the victim Breda O'Callaghan said the family were "happy" with the sentence but would have preferred if Phelan was given the entire 11 years.
Ms O'Callaghan said: "We'll never get Thomas back, it'll never bring him back, no matter how many years (Phelan) got.
"Eight years...we were kind of expecting that. We knew he wouldn't get the full sentence, (life in jail)."
"We just hope he learns his lesson and doesn't attack another elderly man."
Ms O'Callaghan went on to describe Thomas as "very quiet, a very very quiet man. He loved his music".
She said: "He lived on his own, he was a bit of a loner. He was in London for 25 years as a chef...he loved to cook. He came back then to be with my mother and father in their last few years here."
"He never bothered anyone. He was never aggressive, he was a very small thin man."
"He went about his business. He liked a few drinks now and again, but all he would do is sing...he loved to sing."
She then explained their "horrendous" experience when they got the news on the morning that Thomas was found in Kennedy Park.
She said: "I went out to the hospital with my daughter to Intensive Care, we couldn't let my mother out there she wouldn't have been able."
"I didn't recognise him. His face was so swollen. He had fractures to his eyes... there was blood coming out of his ears. "
"He was in a coma at the time. So they didn't hold out much hope. We used to visit him everyday and play his music because he loved Jimmy Hendrix."
"We hoped he would come around and he would get better but the doctors told us he had severe brain damage."
"He was in the hospital for two months, and we would go out to him twice a day. He had a carer with him all the time because he would try to get out of the bed even though he couldn't walk."
Ms O'Callaghan described how they had to find a nursing home for Thomas because they were told he would not get any better.
She said: "We got him into the Good Council Nursing Home and we checked on him everyday to make sure he was being looked after properly."
"At that stage his speech was gone and she used to be trying to tell us things...he would shout but we couldn't understand what he was saying."
"All we could do is sit with us for a while but all he ever wanted to do was go home. We had a little chart and he would point to the family home and say 'home, home home.'"
Seeing his deterioration proved too much for Thomas' mother.
Ms O'Callaghan said: "It broke my mother's heart. She aged overnight. My mother was a very lively woman and she loved dressing up and going for walks. But after this happened to Thomas she would sit by the fire."
"It used to break her heart, and she couldn't understand how somebody could do that to an innocent person."
"She was just devastated, she gave up on life. She lasted six months after. Rita was 82."
"We are relieved that Tom's suffering is over. He suffered terribly for those 18 months, and my mother as well."
"I just hope they are in a better place."
"Tom was a healthy man, even though he was very small and thin. He wasn't on any medication or anything like that...He would go walking for miles and miles."
She then tried to describe how she felt about the beating and Thomas' subsequent death.
Ms O'Callaghan said: "I do feel anger. There is seriously something wrong with (Phelan). How can somebody do that to a defenceless man."
"He knew (Tom) was an elderly man and a small very thin man that would not be able to defend himself."
"My own son, who has children, said it to me, that if his own son did something like that he would disown him, and so would I."
"I would not be able to tolerate my own son doing something like that to a vulnerable person, it's just not right."
"I hope he changes his ways and looks at what it can do to families. It devastates lives, his actions."
"I just hope that when he does come out he is a better person."