Clare man goes on trial for murder of mother of two Sharon Bennett

Accused has pleaded not guilty to murdering Ms Bennett, 29, in the Market area of Ennis on February 10, 2021
Clare man goes on trial for murder of mother of two Sharon Bennett

Patrick Ballard denies the murder of Sharon Bennett. File picture

A 35-year-old man carried out "a violent attack" on his partner, mother-of-two Sharon Bennett, by "repeatedly" kicking and stamping on her head in a public toilet in Ennis last year, a prosecution barrister has told a murder trial.

Defence counsel Mark Nicholas SC, for Patrick Ballard, told the 12 jurors his client admitted his actions caused the death of his partner Ms Bennett and accepted her killing was unlawful.

However, Mr Ballard, 35, formerly of Ashford Court Hotel, Ennis, Co Clare, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Ms Bennett, 29, in the Market area of Ennis on February 10, 2021.

Mr Ballard and Ms Bennett were in a relationship at the time of the alleged murder. Ms Bennett was a mother of two girls, then aged nine and six, from a previous relationship.

Prosecution opening address

In his opening address on Wednesday, prosecuting counsel Dominic McGinn SC said Ms Bennett died on February 10, 2021, as a result of a violent attack on her by Mr Bennett, which had occurred in the town centre of Ennis two weeks earlier, on January 28, 2021.

Outlining the facts of the case, Mr McGinn said Ms Bennett and Mr Ballard had been in a relationship for a couple of months at the time. The pair were in temporary accommodation in Ennis and were habitual drinkers.

On January 28, counsel said Ms Bennett and Mr Ballard had been drinking together in a covered car park area which was used as a market in the centre of Ennis.

Detailing the evidence that will be heard, Mr McGinn said four or five persons including the accused man and the deceased had been drinking in the car park but at some stage there was a disagreement or argument between Mr Ballard and Ms Bennett.

The prosecution barrister went on to tell the court that Ms Bennett had "lashed out" at Mr Ballard during the argument by kicking him in the face as he sat on the ground in the car park. 

This was seen by some young men who were skateboarding in the car park at the time and those that were drinking with the pair also saw it happening, he added.

CCTV footage, the court heard, will show the incident where Ms Bennett "lashed out" at the accused man.

Mr McGinn said the evidence will be that "things settled down" between the couple before they moved to a small public toilet outside the car park with another man. 

"They would habitually go there to stay out of the rain and drink there. It was a single cubicle unit with one toilet in it and a sliding door and one had to put some money into it," he said.

Evidence against the accused

In relation to the evidence against the accused, Mr McGinn said Mr Ballard had violently attacked Ms Bennett once they were inside the toilet. The other man tried to intervene but Mr Ballard pushed him out of the toilet and he [the other man] fell over.

There will be evidence, Mr McGinn said, that Mr Ballard returned to the toilet and continued his assault on Ms Bennett.

He also indicated to the jury that various members of the public saw some of what had happened. 

"They saw a man in the doorway of a toilet repeatedly kicking something or stamping on something. At the time, members of the public didn't realise that what he was kicking and stamping on was Ms Bennett's head." 

The court will also hear evidence, the lawyer said, that an off-duty garda was passing at the time and was first on the scene. However, by the time the off-duty garda arrived, Mr Ballard had left the scene. The garda found Ms Bennett still alive but in a critical condition with severe injuries to her head and face.

Ms Bennett was taken to hospital where her condition stabilised but she eventually died on February 10, 2021.

The lawyer said the CCTV footage did not show exactly what happened inside the toilet but it did show Mr Ballard walking away from the scene. "It appears he went to a nearby takeaway where he demanded some free food and had lashed out at a car as he crossed the road," he said.

The barrister further said the accused returned to where he was living at Ashford Court Hotel and spoke to the manager, who called the gardaí when he saw blood on Mr Ballard. 

The accused was then arrested and taken to Shannon Garda Station, where he said "certain things", which counsel said will be part of the case for the jury to consider.

Charge upgraded to murder

Counsel said the court will hear Mr Ballard was initially charged with assaulting Ms Bennett. However, the accused was re-arrested on March 24, 2021, after the mother-of-two died on February 10 and charged with the offence of murder.

The barrister said the jury will have to concentrate on what was in Mr Ballard's mind that day and what his intention was when he inflicted "unlawful violence" on Ms Bennett.

Mr McGinn said the prosecution will have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that either Mr Ballard intended to kill Ms Bennett or at the very least cause her serious harm.

He explained the State’s case would be that the natural consequence of kicking someone in the head and stamping repeatedly on them would be to cause serious harm.

The court will also hear all parties were intoxicated when this happened but the barrister indicated intoxication was not a defence in law. "A drunken intention is still an intentional act," he added.

The accused's barrister, Mark Nicholas SC, then made a series of admissions on his client's behalf. Mr Nicholas said the death of Ms Bennett was an unlawful killing but that his client denies it was murder. "He admits his actions caused the death of Sharon Bennett," he concluded.

The trial continues on Wednesday afternoon before Mr Justice Paul Burns and a jury of seven men and five women. It is expected to last two weeks.

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