Nothing prepares you for being told your father has been beaten to death: Son of victim

The son of a 62-year-old man beaten to death by a man half his age has said he cannot stop thinking of him drowning in his own blood with nobody to help him, writes Natasha Reid.

David Sweeney was delivering his victim impact statement to the Central Criminal Court today in the sentence hearing of the 35-year-old Dubliner, who pleaded guilty to his father’s manslaughter.

He noted that his father had been an alcoholic, but said he was the only father that he and his siblings had. He said that his killing had affected every aspect of their lives.

Central Criminal Court
Central Criminal Court

Gary Walsh, with an address at The Watercourse, Orwell Park in Templeogue, had been charged with murdering Cathal Sweeney at a mutual friend’s flat in Ashdale Gardens, Terenure in Dublin. He was 31 at the time.

He had pleaded not guilty to murder, but guilty to the former rugby captain’s manslaughter on 8th February 2014. However, two separate juries were unable to reach a verdict and his manslaughter plea was eventually accepted.

The accused and the deceased had met for the first time that morning in the flat of a mutual friend, who was also an alcoholic. They drank alcohol while watching Ireland play rugby.

Walsh then punched the father-of-three repeatedly until Mr Sweeney admitted to an assault that the accused believed he had committed on another man. He had stopped beating him because there was so much blood and told Mr Sweeney to clean himself up following the assault.

D Sgt Joe Molloy testified that Walsh had called the paramedics after finding Mr Sweeney slumped over in the bedroom.

He said that gardaí found Walsh to be nervous and uneasy when they arrived. He claimed that Mr Sweeney had been assaulted before arriving to the flat, but the occupant told gardaí otherwise, and Walsh then admitted beating him.

D Sgt Molloy explained that a drinking session had been going on for some time, with Walsh consuming alcohol continuously for about 24 hours.

He said that a post-mortem exam found that the deceased has sustained fractures to his nasal and cheek bones, which would have compromised his ability to breathe. The resulting lack of oxygen would have caused brain injury.

The court heard that his cause of death was ‘blunt force trauma to the head and face with profuse hemorrhage on a background of coronary artery atheroma, an enlarged heart and warfarin therapy’.

The pathologist had accepted that the six or seven punches Walsh had admitted giving could have accounted for all the injuries.

The victim’s son, David Sweeney, entered the witness box to deliver a victim impact statement on behalf of himself; his brother, Tim; and sister, Fiona.

“Our father was an alcoholic,” he began. “We did not condone his way of life, nor the company he kept but he was our Dad. We only ever get one, and he was ours.”

He noted that alcoholism was a classless illness and that it was rare to find a family in Ireland that had not been ‘touched by the detrimental effects of alcohol in some way’.

He acknowledged that the alcohol abuse had taken its toll on his father’s health.

“However, he only needed to survive one more day to meet his third grandchild for the first time,” he said, adding that three more grandchildren had been born since then.

“They are now starting to ask about him and what happened to him. How do we ever explain that?” he asked.

He said his father had loved the grandchildren he had met and that it was important for the family for their children to know him.

“That has now been needlessly ripped away from us forever,” he said. “We can never forget or forgive that.”

He said that his father had been a good, generous man, who had been sociable to the extreme.

“It is very hard for us to accept or understand the circumstances in which he was taken from us in such a violent manner,” he said. “He was not a violent man.”

He said the effect of the killing on their lives could not be measured.

“It has affected our marriages, our careers, our social lives,” he said. “We have not been able to properly put our father to rest, and this is affecting the relationships we have with the people we love the most.”

“Nothing can prepare you for arriving home to find the Gardaí at your house and them telling you that your father has been brutally beaten to death by a man half his age,” he said. “A man younger than me.”

He added that nothing could have prepared him for relaying the news to his mother and younger siblings.

He said he thinks of what happened to his father every day.

“The episodes haunt my mind,” he said. “I cannot stop thinking about the fear he must have experienced on that day - the fear of being helpless, the fear of dying, the fear of going alone. The thoughts of him being unable to breathe, coughing and drowning in his own blood.”

He said he had dreams of him trying to call him and his brother to help him but not being able.

“I will never be able to get those images from my mind,” he said. “These, or the images of a vicious and relentless beating being carried out on my own Dad unable to defend himself.”

He said he would carry this with him.

“The last mental picture I have of my father is not him at all,” he concluded. “What we saw in the funeral home 10 days later was the funeral director’s best attempt to cover up a broken face. The man in the coffin was so foreign and alien to me that I couldn’t even mourn properly for him.”

Mr Sweeney then read out a statement on behalf of his father’s sister, Ann.

“My heart did physically break on February 8th 2014 - my big brother was gone,” she wrote. “The horror and pain I felt to see him the way he was - so broken and alone. It is an indelible image in my mind.”

“Addiction was his disease,” she concluded. “It should not define him in his untimely death.”

Brendan Grehan SC, defending, handed in a number of positive testimonials and reports on behalf of his client. He also read out a letter Walsh had written to the presiding judge, Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy.

“I have done my utmost to become a better person,” he wrote of his time on bail. “I dug deep inside.”

He said he understood that he had caused a man he didn’t know to lose his life and said he would like to sincerely apologise to the Sweeney family for the hurt and pain he’d caused.

“Whatever sentence is handed to me, I will spend it wisely,” he wrote.

Justice McCarthy adjourned sentencing until until Monday next, and remanded Walsh in custody until then.

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