‘Highly desirable’ that attempted murderer be sentenced before 18th birthday, judge says

The President of the Court of Appeal has said that it’s ‘highly desirable’ that an attempted murderer be sentenced before his 18th birthday to avoid unknown implications.
‘Highly desirable’ that attempted murderer be sentenced before 18th birthday, judge says

The President of the Court of Appeal has said that it is "highly desirable" that an attempted murderer be sentenced before his 18th birthday to avoid unknown implications.

The Central Criminal Court had already sentenced the teenager to 11 years’ detention with a review after five years for attempting to murder a woman he met online.

However, the Court of Appeal ruled last week that this was too lenient. It concluded that the element of planning and premeditation meant that, "even as attempted murders go," the offence had to be seen as being at the high end of the spectrum.

The now 17-year-old, who cannot be named because he is a minor, has been in custody since December 2017, when he lured Stephanie Ng to an isolated area at the Sea Front, Queen's Road, Dun Laoghaire.

After pleading guilty to her attempted murder, the teenager received his sentence in November 2019.

However, the State appealed that sentence on the grounds of "unduly leniency" to the Court of Appeal, arguing that a review after five years was too early.

The court found in its favour last week and the parties were back before the court today. However, the case was adjourned to the end of the month to allow for an up-to-date psychiatric report.

Court President Justice George Birmingham granted the boy’s wish to have a physical hearing on that occasion, as opposed to the remote hearings taking place as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.

Justice Patrick McCarthy asked if he and his colleagues were "going to be asked to resentence without the benefit of the best evidence," referring to the evidence of the boy’s treating psychiatrist around the time of the attack.

“No, we’re not proposing that evidence, Judge,” replied Patrick Gageby SC, on behalf of the boy.

Justice Birmingham, who also sat with Justice Isobel Kennedy, set  July 28 next for the sentence hearing.

“It does seem to be highly desirable that it proceed on 28th July,” he said.

“As I understand it, this young man will turn 18…. I don’t know what the implications would be if he were not to be sentenced until then.

"Would it be that he’d have to be resentenced as an adult? Would that mean the option of sentence review would lapse?” He later repeated his concern ‘that matters shouldn’t be allowed slip by, lest we find ourselves against a deadline’.

“I’m saying that, I believe, in ease of the young respondent,” he added.

The teenager met his 25-year-old victim on the Whisper social media app, where he had pretended to be 19. The boy was just 15 when he tried to kill Ms Ng during their first face-to-face meeting, after suggesting they take a selfie by the water’s edge.

There, he grabbed her from behind and choked her to unconsciousness before slashing her neck with a knife.

Gardai later found a book of drawings in his bedroom, containing a sketch of someone being cut up with a knife. The words, ‘serial killer’, had been written on another page.

His victim previously gave evidence of taking what she thought was her last breath, as the teenager tried to ‘choke the life’ out of her before leaving her for dead. She later felt that he was frustrated with himself for not having killed her.

Through tears, she told the Central Criminal Court that the boy had ‘destroyed’ her life.

She attended a remote hearing of the Court of Appeal in May, where the Director of Public Prosecutions appealed the leniency of the sentence imposed on her attacker. The boy and his parents also attended remotely from where he is detained at Oberstown Children Detention Campus.

Anne-Marie Lawlor SC informed the court that the DPP wasn’t taking issue with the sentence of 11 years, but said that the review after five years did not reflect the gravity of the offence.

Ms Lawlor said that the effect of the sentence imposed was to permit the release of the respondent after five years.

“It is the minimum sentence he will serve and does not reflect the gravity of the offence,” she argued.

She said that one could not quibble with the sentencing judge’s view that the headline sentence was one of life.

“It is the view of the respondent that his culpability is reduced in light of his youth and mental condition,” she said. “The director does not quibble with the reduction to 11 years in light of those factors.” “I say that the minimum time he must spend in custody cannot be five years,” she added.

Patrick Gageby SC, for the teenager, argued that a very important part of the case, to which the judge had given long thought, was the possibility and probability of an emerging psychiatric illness or personality disorder in his client in the coming three or four years.

He said that there was no expectation of release after five years. He pointed to a previous case, where the judge reviewed a life sentence on a juvenile after 10 years, but didn’t release him for a further two years.

“The learned trial judge is very experienced in juvenile matters and, in the last few years, we’ve all done more juvenile cases than … in the past 30 years,” he noted.

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy noted that the court did not have ‘the fullest information’ about the boy’s medical treatment from before the offence.

“If we were to resentence, would that material be available to us?” he asked.

“I’d have to take instructions on that,” replied Mr Gageby.

The court concluded that the sentence was simply inadequate, and ‘while obviously the product of great care and attention, did not meet adequately the enormity of the offending behaviour’.

“A crime of attempted murder is, by definition, an offence of extreme seriousness,” said the judges.

They noted that, for such a conviction, it had to be established that the offender acted with an intention to kill, an intention often not established in a murder.

“In this case, the element of planning and premeditation means that even as attempted murders go, the offence has to be seen as being at the high end of the spectrum,” they added.

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