A man who beat his uncle to death because he wrongly believed he had raped his sister has been jailed for four years by Judge Desmond Hogan at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.
Stephen Byrne drank 10 pints before he punched his 53-year-old uncle, Michael O’Brien, up to eight times in the head and then smashed a jug over his head when he called to the flat the dead man shared with his brother, Anthony O’Brien, who witnessed the violent attack.
Detective Sergeant Mark Kavanagh told Mr Des Zaidan BL, prosecuting, that when Byrne was leaving the flat he shouted: "I’ll be back next week."
Gardaí and an ambulance were called when Mr O’Brien showed no signs of life. He was pronounced dead in St James’ Hospital later that night.
Byrne was arrested four days later and after he was cautioned he told gardaí: "He’s a rapist. He raped my sister. I hit him about eight times and threw a jug at him."
Detective Sergeant Kavanagh told Mr Zaidan that Byrne’s sister was questioned about the rape allegation but was suffering from depression and was difficult to interview. She gave no specifics about any alleged rape and no complaint was made to the gardaí.
Byrne (aged 36), a married man with three children, from Redmond Court, Kilbarrack, pleaded guilty to unlawfully killing Mr O’Brien, a widowed man with three grown-up daughters, at Markiewicz House, Pearse Street, on January 17, 2003.
Judge Hogan described it as a "tragic case" but said Byrne’s actions were "unsolicited and unwarranted" because he had acted on an unsubstantiated complaint. He said he had no doubt that the complaint in itself had resulted in its own trauma to the deceased’s children and family.
"He had drink taken and took the law into his own hands. He acted in a violent manner by striking the deceased a number of times when he was unable to defend himself and he will have to live with the consequences of this for the rest of his life," said Judge Hogan.
Det Sgt Kavanagh said gardaí were satisfied that when Byrne called to the house to confront Mr O’Brien he honestly believed he had raped his sister. "Through the frustration of his sister being depressed he was looking for answers. He believed this happened but he has said he is sorry."
Det Sgt Kavanagh said that Byrne first became aware of the rape allegations about six months before he killed Mr O’Brien and drank about 10 pints before calling to the flat.
Mr Paul O’Brien, the dead man’s brother, told the court that the family would accept any sentence the judge passed down but added that they would never be the same again.
He said: "To have a brother one day and he’s just gone the next is unreal. It’s terrible. My family have suffered something really terrible. He has left behind three lovely girls. I’m devastated."
Mr O’Brien’s daughter, Wendy Mullins, said she hadn’t been able to sleep for a year. She said she didn’t know where the rape allegations came from and that her father was now not here to defend himself.
"In the last year we’ve been dragged into hell because of this case. There were allegations made against my father and we need to defend him because we don’t know what happened.
"Stephen went out without knowing what went on and took my father’s life. He never asked anyone about it and this seemed to come out when drink was involved. I had to explain to my 15-year-old daughter what was going on. She loved her grandfather.
"My son’s birthday was on January 17 and this year he wanted to postpone it because he didn’t think it was right to celebrate it on the day his grandfather died."
Mr Shane Murphy SC, for Byrne, pleaded with Judge Hogan to be lenient and to "balance the interest of justice with the interest of clemency and rehabilitation".
Mr Murphy said it was clear Byrne didn’t intend to kill Mr O’Brien or to cause him grievous harm and he readily explained the reasons for his conduct. He had also suffered and continued to suffer great stress.
Mr Murphy added that Byrne came to court indicating his "remorse, concern and sorrow" and had indicated on the day of his arrest that he would be pleading guilty.