AN 18-year-old man who killed another teenager in "a motiveless crime" within hours of meeting him at a house party has been sentenced to 10 years in prison by Judge Michael White at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.
Stephen Kearney (aged 20) of Coultry Drive, Ballymun, Dublin, admitted unlawfully killing 18-year-old Francis Gallagher at Coultry Road on October 25, 2004.
He also pleaded guilty to making a threat to kill Garda Michael Ryan in Hughes’ Pub in Chancery Street, Dublin, on September 16, 2004, contrary to Section 5 of the Non Fatal Offences Against the Persons’ Act.
Judge White imposed a one-year sentence for the threat-to-kill charge and for the unlawful killing of Francis Gallagher he gave Kearney a nine-year consecutive sentence, with the final two years suspended on condition that he entered into a probation bond,
Sentencing Kearney, Judge White said that while the defendant’s guilty plea and his expression of remorse, as well as that of his family, were mitigating factors, he had to consider the aggravating circumstances.
These included the intensity of the attack, which featured repeated kicks to the victim’s head as "he lay in a defenceless position. His face had been stamped on. The accused was on bail at the time."
He also noted what he described as the "devastating effects" the killing had on the victim’s family.
The victim’s father, Mr Tom Gallagher, had told the court his family had been "through hell" since his son was killed.
He and his wife and other members of the family had to have counselling. He had been charged to try to convey to the court the impact the killing on the family but found this "an impossible task".
"I have tried to be strong for them. I have wiped away their tears and my own. I have tried to answer the impossible question: ‘Why has this happened to my son, Francis?’" he said.
"Francis was also a very good artist. I have many paintings he did hanging in the hall of my home.
"The most poignant one of all hangs in my bedroom, a four-foot-by-two-foot canvas in oils of a racehorse jumping a fence.
"It is so special because Francis never got to finish it. He was killed before he could. In many ways this painting is Francis’ life. He was the artist and never got the chance to finish his work," Mr Gallagher said.
Detective Sergeant Matt Murphy told Mr Sean Gillane BL, prosecuting, that the victim never regained consciousness after the assault on him and died on October 27, 2004.
A post-mortem examination concluded that he died due to trauma to the head. He had extensive head injuries, including bruising and swelling to his brain, bruises and cuts to his face and a fractured cheek bone.
His skull was intact and there was no evidence of a weapon having been used.
Emergency services who arrived at the scene said the victim was disfigured and so covered in blood that they could not determine the colour of his skin.
Kearney, who travelled in the ambulance with Mr Gallagher, was very distressed in the Mater Hospital and was later arrested under the Public Order Act.
Kearney told gardaí that he had left the house party with Mr Gallagher after the girl who lived there asked them to go and get her boyfriend, who lived in Santry.
He said when they got to the flat complex, Mr Gallagher became anxious because he thought it was a "set-up" and while he went upstairs to one of the flats, Mr Gallagher stayed behind.
He said he came down to find the man lying on the ground and with distressed breathing as if he were choking on his own blood.
Some days later he returned to the garda station, where he admitted to beating Mr Gallagher. He said that Mr Gallagher lunged at him with a knife after he became "paranoid about a set-up".
Kearney said he punched him in the face and broke his nose, which sent him to the ground. He said when Mr Gallagher tried to get up he kicked him six times in the head.
He was then breathing very badly and he ran away but then he thought: "This is my friend," so he came back, picked him up and called an ambulance.
Det. Sgt Murphy said Kearney showed gardaí a cut below his chin where he said the knife struck him and told them he didn’t know where the knife was now.
He admitted to stamping on his victim’s head and kicking him in the sides and the ribs. He later told his mother in the garda station that he had kicked the man too many times.
Witnesses who came across them on Coultry Road said Kearney asked them for their phone and told them to call an ambulance. They overheard him say to the man lying on the ground: "Please don’t die. If you die I will never forgive myself."
Det. Sgt Murphy told Mr Gillane that CCTV footage showed that the runners handed over to Kearney by gardaí didn’t match those he wore on the night.
It was discovered that after the assault Kearney went to a nearby flat and changed his clothes and runners, which were covered in blood, before returning to the scene.
An acquaintance threw them in the rubbish chute and Kearney returned some time later to try to burn them. Kearney told gardaí he had no intention of killing Mr Gallagher and accepted that he had gone too far. He said he should have gone home after his victim fell to the ground.
Det. Sgt Murphy said that although Kearney now had 16 previous convictions, including theft and criminal damage, he had none at the time of the attack on Mr Gallagher. He had been in custody since he admitted to the killing.
Det. Sgt Murphy agreed with Mr Brendan Grehan SC (with Ms Caroline Biggs BL), defending, that Kearney readily admitted he had gone overboard in kicking Mr Gallagher a number of times and that he took full responsibility for all the injuries sustained by his victim that night.
He accepted that the killing was "totally out of the blue" and there was nothing to suggest that anything had happened between the two men at the party, where they met for the first time.
They engaged in competitive banter about their criminal activity but gardaí were satisfied that it could in no way have been called an argument.
Det. Sgt Murphy said he was satisfied that Kearney was very remorseful for his actions. He had tried to commit suicide by hanging himself at the garda station but officers got to him in time and he was taken to hospital.
Mr Grehan said Kearney had no difficulty accepting that his behaviour on the night was "not at all" in proportion to the threat he perceived on him at the time.
He said Mr Kearney had gone into "a downward spiral" after getting into the wrong crowd, who were attracted to his financial situation after he was awarded a significant compensation claim. He said he came from a very good background and that he had promise that was not fulfilled.
He read from a letter that Kearney wrote to apologise to the Gallagher family for the terrible crime he had committed and what he had put them through. He described it as a fight that went wrong.
Kearney’s sister, Jackie, also read a letter in court to express her sympathy with the Gallagher family. She described her brother as "a cheeky chappy with a heart of gold" who had never been violent or threatened violence towards his family.
Kearney will also be sentenced in relation to threatening then recently appointed Gda Ryan in Hughes Pub, Chancery Street, on September 16, 2004, that he would be killed or maimed by him if he saw him in a patrol car.
Kearney also told Gda Ryan that he would get his mate to "mince" him and after purporting to order him to remove his official badge and said he would "take him on".