A 29-year-old Meath man who inexplicably killed his friend after a day of drinking and taking drugs together has been jailed for four years at the Central Criminal Court.
John Mooney, with an address at Trim Road, Summerhill, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Thomas Canning (aged 42), also from Summerhill, at Lough Lene, Collinstown, County Westmeath, on August 30, 2007.
Mooney was acquitted by a jury of the murder of Mr Canning following a trial earlier this month. He had offered a plea to manslaughter before the trial but that had been rejected by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
An intoxicated Mooney had launched an unprovoked attack on his friend which resulted in Mr Canning suffering a fatal heart attack.
Mr Justice Barry White said, “neither intoxication nor the use of illegal substances can ever excuse the commission of a criminal offence”. He said this death was, “mindless in every sense”.
He accepted that the defendant was genuinely remorseful, had cooperated fully with gardai and was, “acutely conscious of the pain and loss” he had inflicted on the Canning family.
Garda Brian Frayne told Michael Durack SC, prosecuting, that Mooney called gardai at around 3.30am and said he had killed his friend in a campervan.
When gardaí arrived at the scene they found Mooney sitting in the passenger seat of the vehicle and Mr Canning lying on the floor of the van.
Mooney was intoxicated at the scene and accepted responsibility for Mr Canning’s death.
He was arrested and taken to Mullingar Garda Station where he was seen by a doctor and interviewed. He cooperated fully and appeared remorseful.
He told gardai that he met up with his friend at around 3 pm on the previous day. They travelled around drinking in various places in Meath and Westmeath.
At around 7.30pm they bought a tray of 24 cans of Miller beer from an off licence.
They parked Mr Canning’s campervan at Lough Lene where they drank the beer, smoked cannabis and took a white powder which they believed to be cocaine but was actually lignocaine, used as a mixing agent in the preparation of cocaine.
At around 3am the powder ran out and Mooney went into a fit, lost control and attacked the deceased.
Medical evidence revealed that the cause of Mr Canning’s death was somewhat complicated and involved the defendant either punching him in the throat or placing his hands on his throat causing his larynx to fracture and leading to a fatal heart attack within 15 seconds.
During interview Mooney could offer no explanation for his attack. Defence counsel, Patrick Gageby SC, said, “no shadow of blame was cast by the accused on the deceased”.
Mr Justice White heard that Mr Canning was a separated man and father of two.
Garda Frayne said the Canning family were receiving counselling and that the deceased's ten year old son was most badly affected by the loss.
Mooney had worked as a labourer and had drug and alcohol problems. He was single, unemployed and had been suffering from anxiety and depression for which he was taking medication.
He had 14 previous convictions for road traffic, public order and burglary offences.
Mr Gageby said that his client came from an extremely decent, hard working and respectable family. He had his client’s plea of guilty to manslaughter had been vindicated by the jury’s acquittal in relation to the murder charge.