A drug addict with "a capacity for violence and aggressive behaviour", who stabbed another man in the back during a row, has been jailed for seven years at the Central Criminal Court for manslaughter.
Ms Justice Carmel Stewart called the case "a tragic set of circumstances" and said the loss suffered by the deceased's mother was "unimaginable" as she had previously lost a daughter in a road traffic accident.
While the defendant did not set out to stab someone on the night, he had not withdrawn or disengaged in the altercation, the judge said.
Robbie Walsh (aged 23), with an address at Island View, Kilrush, Co Clare was found not guilty of murder but guilty of the manslaughter of Karl “Gobbo” Haugh (aged 25) by a jury on February 13 last.
He had pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr Haugh at Marion Estate, Kilkee, Co. Clare, in the early hours of August 6, 2017.
Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis gave evidence that Mr Haugh died from a single stab wound, which punctured his lung and led to massive bleeding.
In his garda interviews, Robbie Walsh said he used a metal bar to smash windows of a car he and his cousins believed belonged to Mr Haugh. He said his group were running away after this when he saw “Karl and a right few” others with golf clubs and bars.
Walsh said in an interview that Mr Haugh dropped a knife he had been holding during the ensuing fight, which he (the defendant) then picked up. He said he kept the knife as Mr Haugh grabbed him and started dragging him around “like a rag doll”.
Walsh told gardaí that he then swung his right arm and stabbed Mr Haugh in the back.
The defendant maintained that he had acted in self-defence on the night and had not brought the knife to the scene. Walsh also told gardaí in his interviews: “I’d no intention of killing anyone or doing anything like that. My only intention was to smash a few windows. I might be a lot of things but I’m not a murderer.”
At a sentence hearing this morning, Ms Justice Stewart said it was accepted and established at trial that Walsh did not bring a knife with him to the altercation. The knife had come from a kitchen block belonging to Mr Haugh’s friend, she indicated.
The judge said this was “undoubtedly” a serious crime in which Mr Haugh was unlawfully killed. Walsh’s attitude to the event was relevant, she said, as he had voluntarily advised gardaí of his actions on the morning after the incident.
The judge also noted that Walsh had offered a plea of manslaughter prior to the trial which had not been accepted by the DPP and said he must receive some credit for this.
However, Ms Justice Stewart said the court could not lose sight of the fact that Walsh had taken Mr Haugh’s life and had also deprived his mother and young daughter of his "continued company".
“It is truly a tragic set of circumstance in terms of Ms Haugh who lost a daughter in a road traffic accident in which Karl survived and then ultimately his life was taken in this manner in August 2017,” she outlined.
The court has heard that Karl Haugh's mother, Bridget Haugh, lost her daughter Stacey in a car crash in October 2003 and Karl, who was only 11 years of age at the time was seriously injured in this crash but made a full recovery.
Passing sentence this morning, Ms Justice Stewart said self-defence had been put forward by Walsh and was a “live issue” throughout his trial.
The judge said she would place the offence at the upper end of the middle range of manslaughter and the headline sentence was 10 years. Having regard to the gravity of the offence, the judge said the maximum sentence was life imprisonment.
The court heard that among the mitigating factors was the fact Walsh did not bring the knife to the scene, his remorse as well as his cooperation with gardaí. “Most if not all of the people involved in the altercation were of the view that someone else had inflicted the fatal wound,” she said, adding that there was no forensic evidence to connect Walsh to the crime so his direct admission to stabbing Haugh was “crucial” to the investigation.
Ms Justice Stewart said the aggravating factors in the case were of serious concern to the court and one of these factors included the fact that Walsh had previously received a three-year sentence for the production of a knife in the course of another fight.
The court has heard that Walsh is a habitual drug user and has 10 previous convictions including damage to property and possession of an article with intent to cause injury.
Referring to the defendant, the judge said Walsh had a long-standing drug addiction which had gone untreated during his short life and he was considered at high risk of committing further offences within the first year of being released back into the community.
“His previous convictions suggest he is a man with a capacity for violence and aggressive behaviour,” she said, adding that he had not addressed any of his anger issues to date.
Sentencing the defendant today, the judge said that while he did not set out that evening to stab anyone, he got caught up in the moment and did not withdraw or disengage from the altercation.
As a result of the mitigating circumstances and guilty plea, the judge said she would reduce the headline sentence from 10 years to eight years in prison.
Ms Justice Stewart then sentenced Walsh to eight years in prison with one year suspended for a period of three years, backdated to August 8, 2017, when he went into custody. She recommended that Walsh attend addiction and counselling services in prison.
Following this, prosecution counsel Patrick Gageby SC said that three of Walsh’s previous convictions appeared to have been active suspended sentences so he asked the court to remand him to Ennis Circuit Court this week for those matters to be dealt with.
The judge said that the loss suffered by Ms Haugh was “unimaginable”, coupled with the earlier loss of her daughter Stacey. “I hope that in future life will be brighter and better for you,” she concluded.
Karl Haugh’s mother, Bridget Haugh, told the court in her victim impact statement last month that she was the mother of two children, Karl and Stacey. Ms Haugh said she lost her daughter Stacey in a car crash in 2003 and now finds that life is “a constant struggle with only memories to sustain” her.
“I can’t find words to describe the feeling of looking at the lifeless body of my beloved son [Karl], my last child on that trolley. I get up in the morning’s and I see my neighbours’ children going in and out of their houses and realise my own children won’t be coming back,” said Bridget Haugh.
“We had the normal ups and downs as any family would until October 2003 when Stacey and her friend were killed in a car crash. Karl, who was only 11 years of age at the time was seriously injured in that crash and was only given a 20% chance of survival. He had a long road to recovery,” she explained.
Referring to August 2017 when her son Karl died, Ms Haugh said “life was good” for him at the time as he had qualified as a gym instructor and had become a dad to his “beautiful daughter”.
“When I answered the knock on the door that night I had no idea what was ahead. I went to my neighbour’s house and the paramedics were working on Karl,” she said.
When Ms Haugh went to see her son later that night in Limerick Regional Hospital, he kept telling her that he “was going to be fine”, she said.
“The doctor told us that he was being transferred to Cork Hospital and we should get on the road. We got a phone call from the hospital 20 minutes into the journey to return to Limerick Regional Hospital,” she said, adding that Karl had passed away by the time they arrived back.
"Our lives have totally changed and we are desperately trying to cope. The only light is Karl’s daughter, she is beautiful and full of life,” she concluded.