By Alison O’Riordan
The Central Criminal Court has been listening to evidence in the sentence hearing of Kerry farmer Michael Ferris, who drove the prongs of a teleporter into his neighbour after a decades-long row about a noisy bird-scarer.
A jury sitting in Tralee found dairy farmer Michael Ferris (63) not guilty of murder but guilty of the manslaughter of Anthony O’Mahony (73) by a majority verdict of 10 to two on October 19.
In today's sentencing hearing, Brendan Grehan SC, defending bachelor farmer Ferris, submitted to the court that the jury’s verdict of manslaughter must be respected and the sentence imposed must be consistent with the verdict which was brought back by the jury.
In mitigating factors, Mr Grehan asked the court to consider that Michael Ferris will be 64 years old in January and had a hard-working ethic and therefore he came before the court to be sentenced with an "unblemished character".
The barrister told the judge that he was not handing in any testimonials to the court as that would be “superfluous” to what the court heard during the trial.
His client had bottled up matters inside him and could not find any other way of dealing with them, he submitted. "Nobody saw this coming so in terms of the future Mr Ferris will have a closer eye kept on him by his family in order not to allow things get on top of him," said the lawyer.
Mr Grehan said that his client had asked him to express his remorse and sorrow for his actions that day as well as the death of Mr O'Mahony. "Mr Ferris did not want this opportunity to go by without conveying these sentiments," he added.
The lawyer submitted to the court that it will have to engage in a balancing act when sentencing his client and it may find it can suspend some part of that sentence.
In conclusion, the defence counsel said he had not put forward any suggestion that Ferris had a mental illness of any kind and his client accepted that he had to be punished for what he did. The first thing Mr Ferris did after this happened was go to his neighbours for them to call the emergency services, Mr Grehan said, adding that his client never took up bail as he realised he could not go back to where he was living in Rattoo at the time because of garda concerns. Finally, he asked the court to be as lenient as it feels it can be when sentencing Ferris.
Ms Justice Carmel Stewart expressed her sympathies to Mr O'Mahony's family and remanded Ferris in custody until December 3, when he will be sentenced.
Earlier: Sentence hearing begins for farmer who violently killed neighbour over noisy bird-scarer
The two-week trial, which ended last month, heard that tillage farmer Anthony O’Mahony suffered "catastrophic injuries" after he was repeatedly stabbed with the prongs of the teleporter while he sat in his car.
Ferris of Rattoo, Ballyduff, Co Kerry, had denied murdering Mr O’Mahony over the use of a crow-banger for scaring birds at Rattoo on the morning of April 4, 2017.
The trial was told that the noise from the device “would wake the dead".
At today’s sentence hearing Detective Sergeant Sandra Kelly, who was actively involved in the investigation, summarised the facts of the case.
Det Sgt Kelly agreed with prosecuting counsel, Patrick McGrath SC, that Mr O’Mahony was a local farmer and this killing occurred when Ferris “blocked” a small roadway in Rattoo, which is a townland in Ballyduff, with a New Holland teleporter and proceeded to drive it at the deceased’s Peugeot car.
This event came to the attention of gardaí at 8.30am that morning, when Ferris' neighbours made a 999 call informing gardaí that the dairy farmer had come to their door and told them that he had attacked another neighbour.
Following this, gardaí discovered Mr O’Mahony’s body in the driver’s seat of his Peugeot car, which had been considerably damaged.
There were serious injuries to Mr O’Mahony’s midriff and Det Sgt Kelly agreed that it was obvious he had suffered a violent death.
Ferris made admissions to gardaí in his neighbour’s home that morning that he knew Mr O’Mahony was going to be coming down the road with the crow-banger and he had blocked the road with the teleporter to stop him.
“I sat up on the teleporter, I did not talk to him, there is no point talking to him,” Ferris told gardaí.
I just snapped.
During interviews in the garda station, Ferris made further admissions in relation to what had happened that morning and said it was "all over a crow-banger", the court heard.
“I suppose he had it turned on for about a week and it was very annoying when it was on,” Ferris said.
When asked by gardaí what had made this morning any different to other mornings, he replied: “I just snapped. I had to do something about it and I blocked the road with the teleporter.”
“I went off doing a few jobs in the meantime, I heard a car hooting then and I supposed it was him. I came back into the teleporter and that was that," he explained.
When gardaí asked him what was going through his mind, he replied: “Nothing good anyway.”
Ferris told gardaí that he had set out that morning to do this because the “banging business” was going on for the last 30 years and he said Mr O’Mahony was "paying no heed" to anyone to turn it off.
“He had to be stopped one way or another because that couldn’t go on any longer,” he said, adding that it was his intention to drive the forks through the deceased’s car.
The dairy farmer agreed with gardaí that he intended to kill Mr O’Mahony and he realised this would have consequences for him.
When gardaí put it to him that surely there was another way around this, he replied: “Believe me there was not.”
Mr McGrath said pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster observed the “catastrophic injuries” to Mr O’Mahony which were consistent with injuries from the prongs of a teleporter. There had been five penetrating wounds to Mr O’Mahony and death would have been immediate.
Det Sgt Kelly agreed that the deceased was a bachelor farmer and owned a number of pieces of land in the Rattoo area with his brother Seamus. On that morning he was going to tillage land close to Rattoo Tower, which is a medieval site.
The court heard Ferris lived in a farmhouse with his brother on a small country road between Tralee and Ballyduff and there was only room for one vehicle in either direction on this road, which lead down to the round tower.
The court heard that Ferris, a dairy farmer all his life, has no previous convictions and has been in custody since April 4, 2017.
Two victim impact statements written from the deceased’s brother and sister will be read to the court after lunch.