A man who slapped, punched and threw a 10-month-old baby in what was described as a "truly horrific" case of child cruelty has had his three-year sentence increased to the maximum of seven years following a successful appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The trial court heard the child was taken to the Midwestern Regional Hospital in Limerick with injuries that included fractures to his right and left arms, a dislocated right elbow, multiple bruising to his body, a burn mark to his right calf and bleeding to his brain.
A medical report stated that the injuries were severe and significant and would have caused extreme pain at the time they occurred.
In February 2012 Larry Connors (aged 21) was jailed for three years by Judge Carroll Moran at Ennis Circuit Criminal Court having pleaded guilty to child cruelty on dates between December 15 2010, and January 3, 2011.
Judge Moran said that Connors, with a last address at Shannon, Co Clare, could be named but nothing could be reported that would identify the mother or child. Connors is not the father of the child.
The mother of the child described how Connors slapped, pinched, punched and threw her baby around the apartment where she lived, stating that Connors abused her child for three weeks and there was nothing she could do about it.
The DPP had appealed against the sentence imposed by Judge Moran on the grounds that it was too lenient.
Counsel for the Director, Mr Shane Costelloe BL, today told the Court of Criminal Appeal that Judge Moran expressly stated he would have imposed a sentence near the maximum of seven years had a plea of guilty not been entered.
He said Judge Moran then stated he was minded to give some form of allowance for the plea of guilty and imposed a sentence of three years.
Mr Costelloe had submitted that this was an error as the trial court gave far too much of a concession in granting a discount of over 50% on the sentence that could have been imposed.
In considering the amount of discount that should be given, Mr Costelloe said a court is obliged to have regard to how useful the plea of guilty was and at what stage it was given.
Counsel told the court that Connors had initially pleaded not guilty to the offence and the matter went to trial, where the mother of the baby underwent cross-examination and the chief medical witness was also called.
That jury was later discharged and the matter re-entered on the court list. A warrant was issued for Connors before he pleaded guilty to the offence in February 2012. Mr Costelloe said the plea of guilty therefore did not save the mother of the child from travelling and having to give evidence.
He submitted that while Judge Moran was entitled to discount the sentence for the plea of guilty and to take Connors’ record in to account, to give a discount of over 50% on the basis that it would have saved witnesses from giving evidence must have been an error.
Mr Justice Nial Fennelly, presiding at the Court of Criminal Appeal, said that this was a “truly horrific case”.
He said the appeal court was satisfied the DPP had met the standard of demonstrating the sentence imposed was a “substantial departure from the norm” of the range of sentences available.
Mr Justice Fennelly said that in his sentencing remarks the trial judge had identified Connors’ lack of previous convictions, his dysfunctional background and his plea of guilty.
He said the court noted that nothing could take away from Connors’ personal, legal and moral responsibility for what had occurred and while his dysfunctional background may create an element of sympathy, it did not explain the offending.
Mr Justice Fennelly said the trial judge appeared to have overlooked that the plea of guilty in this case did not save witnesses from having to give evidence.
In those circumstances, Mr Justice Fennelly said the value of the plea of guilty was greatly reduced and the court found the trial judge was not justified in reducing what he described as a sentence that was near the maximum of seven years to one of three years.
He said the court was also satisfied on the facts of the case that the sentence was unduly lenient.
In imposing sentence, Mr Justice Fennelly said the plea of guilty came after events where the mother of the child already had given evidence, and Connors had displayed an almost total lack of cooperation with the garda investigation.
He said Connors went so far as to tell gardaí that the mother of the child “better hope I get a life sentence for this”, which was clearly meant to be interpreted as a threat.
As the seriousness of the case placed it near the top of the scale of offending and the mitigating factors were slight, Mr Justice Fennelly said the court would impose a sentence of seven years but would suspend the final two years to provide some hope to the respondent.
Mr Costelloe said he was happy to be able to tell the court that the child was now doing rather well, although he requires speech therapy because of a tear injury to his mouth.