A Dublin man who stabbed his life-long friend and neighbour to death after drinking and taking benzodiazepine has been sentenced to six years in prison.
Justice Robert Eagar at the Central Criminal Court said Paul Keating was at a medium risk of re-offending but he considered the 50-year-old's efforts at rehabilitation and determination never to drink again when passing sentence.
Last October Paul Keating (50) of Harmontsown Road, Artane, Dublin 5 was found not guilty of murder but guilty of the manslaughter of Mark Richardson (49) on March 16, 2017 at the deceased's home. The five-day trial heard evidence that Keating stabbed Mr Richardson in the chest following an argument while both men were drinking. The single stab wound severed the main pulmonary artery causing heavy bleeding.
Keating offered to plead guilty to manslaughter ahead of the trial and Justice Eagar said his early plea was a further mitigating factor when considering sentence.
The judge noted that both Keating and Mr Richardson had been life-long friends and spent the two days prior to Mr Richardson's death drinking together. Keating, he said, had developed a dependency on drink and drugs after being shot in both legs when he was in his early 20s after falling foul of a local criminal gang. He suffered from anxiety as a result and used alcohol and benzodiazepines to help relax in social situations.
He had previous convictions dealt with at the District Court and most of these, Justice Eagar said, resulted from his abuse of alcohol. He also noted the impact of Mr Richardson's death on the deceased's family, as described by his partner Aisling Kenny in a statement to the court.
Justice Eager went through Ms Kenny's statement in which she described the deceased as her soulmate and added that they shared the "deepest love and respect for each other".
She said: “I was always a very outgoing and confident person...Now I find myself spending much of my time at home due to anxiety and panic attacks." Ms Kenny said she now dreads doing everyday things like the weekly shop and has nightmares of what she saw on the night Mark was killed. The mother-of-three said her children no longer have a male role model in their lives and her daughter will have no father to walk her down the aisle.
“We raised the children together sharing the work-load. Where our children were concerned we always worked as a team. Now I find myself in a position of loneliness. I wake every morning and give my all in the best interest of my children. It’s not easy, I can no longer turn to Mark for support. This has made me feel extremely vulnerable as a mother who only wants to do the very best for her children,” said Ms Kenny.
Justice Eagar further noted the impact on the deceased's children, who Ms Kenny said were no longer “bright bubbly children" as a result of "having witnessed something that night that no child should ever see.”
Ms Kenny continued: "They saw the man they loved, cherished and adored lying in our garden covered in blood with garda cars, fire engines, an ambulance and paramedics trying desperately to save their dad's life. The following morning they woke in my mother’s home and their first words were 'when is daddy coming home', that’s when myself and my brother had the most awful task of telling them that daddy had passed and had gone to heaven."
Mark cherished and adored his children. “He was a real hands on dad and spent a lot of his time with the kids. My family is broken,” she concluded.
The court also noted that Keating had expressed his deep remorse to Mr Richardson's family and said he feels "mentally and physically sick" every day as a result of what he did.
Justice Eagar said he would impose a sentence of 7 and-a-half years with the final 18 months suspended on the condition that Keating engage with any rehabilitation courses recommended by probation services. He further expressed concern that Keating planned to live at his family home on his release, which is close to the deceased's family. He asked probation services to liaise with the victim's family ahead of Keating's release. His sentence was backdated to March 16, 2017 when he first went into custody.
During the trial Aisling Kenny, the partner of Mark Richardson, testified that they had been in a relationship for 15 years and had three children together. They had moved into their home the previous year but had been homeless before that.
Ms Kenny gave evidence that her partner’s lifelong friend, Mr Keating, lived a few doors away and that he often visited their home, where he would drink with the deceased.
She said that both men had gone out together that day and arrived back around lunchtime with an eight-pack of cans each. She joined them drinking in their dining room around 6pm. She said that the men had got through most of what they had bought by the time of the stabbing. She gave evidence that her partner and the accused were messing. “They were slagging each other over nicknames they used to call each other,” she said.
“There was a time I can remember Mark having Paul in a headlock and kind of nuggying,” she said, explaining that this was "kind of like rubbing his head".
She said she didn’t remember either of them getting annoyed during this time and that both men then went out the back for no more than five minutes. “The next thing I remember is Mark being stabbed in the kitchen,” she said. She confirmed that Paul Keating had stabbed him with a long, kitchen knife.
Dean Connors, Mr Richardson’s adult son, gave evidence that he arrived with his partner and their child about half an hour before the stabbing.
He said that a "discussion" arose between his father and Mr Keating as to who owned a can of drink his father gave him when he visited that evening.
“My father gave me a drink. There was a little discussion between my father and Mr Keating about who the can belonged to and a little scuffle between them,” he said. He said that this scuffle lasted about 30 seconds.
“My father ended up getting a bit upset and went out to the back garden and was giving out,” he said.
Kim Valentine, partner of Dean Connors, gave evidence that she heard a kitchen drawer "being slammed open" before she saw Mr Keating stab Mr Richardson with a kitchen knife. She also spoke of a scuffle between the men, and the deceased having his arm around Mr Keating’s neck after the disagreement over the can of beer. She said that Mr Keating "just snapped" and she saw "a whole change". She agreed that everything that happened after this point was "very, very quick".
Chief State Pathologist, Professor Marie Cassidy, gave evidence in the trial and said she carried out a postmortem examination on Mr Richardson's body on March 17.
In her evidence, Dr Cassidy said the cause of death was a single stab wound to the right upper chest, which punctured a lung and severed the main pulmonary artery. A toxicology report showed he had been drinking up to the time of his death and there was traces of a tranquilliser drug. Under cross-examination by Caroline Biggs SC, defending, Dr Cassidy agreed that stab wounds to the lungs are potentially fatal but one can recover with "fairly rapid medical attention". Dr Cassidy further agreed with Ms Biggs that the stab wound was a "good distance away" from the heart.
The trial also heard that Mr Keating was interviewed by gardaí on two occasions in Clontarf Garda station on March 17.
The defendant told gardaí he had been drinking with Mr Richardson since March 15 and they had started arguing. “Before I knew it he had me up by my neck, I picked up the knife, I just lost it and before I knew it he was on the ground,” he said. He did not know why he stabbed his friend as it was the last thing on his mind to injure or hurt him, the court heard. Mr Keating said he thought he got a knife from the counter top in the kitchen and had stabbed Mark in the shoulder once. “It all just happened so quickly, it was pure drink. I was taking tablets as well which he was giving me,” he said.
The accused agreed with gardaí that he had “lost the head” and just “flipped”. Mr Keating said he did not mean to kill his friend, it made him feel sick and he will never know why the incident had occurred. The court also heard from forensic scientist Sarah Fleming who testified that blood-staining taken from the knife’s blade which was recovered at the scene matched Mr Richardson’s DNA profile. Ms Fleming said the probability of Mr Richardson’s DNA matching someone else was considerably less than one in a thousand million.