A 23-year-old man who killed his own father during a fist-fight which erupted moments after the two men left the pub they had been drinking in was jailed for four years on Monday.
Stephen Butler told gardaí he didn’t mean to kill his father John Butler, 48, when they clashed on the doorstep of the house they shared in Portlaw, Co Waterford.
“It was just to fight,” he said.
Mr Butler later died of his injures in hospital and his son was arrested and charged in connection with the incident, which took place on the early hours of January 11, 2020.
Butler had claimed that although he had “repeatedly punched” his father during the fight, he had not intended to kill or cause severe injury.
After a trial lasting eight days in October 2021, the jury accepted Butler’s defence and he was remanded in custody for sentencing on the manslaughter charge.
At Monday's sentence hearing, Mr Justice Paul Burns said the altercation between the two men “could have easily passed off as just another after-hours row”.
“They only had to cross the road to reach their home,” the judge said.
However, as a result of being locked out of the house by the victim, the accused became aggressive and began shouting before delivering “a number of heavy blows” towards his father, one of which proved to be fatal, the judge said.
“The unlawful taking of a life of another is a most grave and serious matter,” Mr Justice Burns continued.
Mr Butler, the judge added, wasn’t the only victim of the accused’s actions.
Butler’s family had been “torn apart”, and his sister Katilyn Butler – who was 19 at the time of the killing – has now been left without a father, he said.
Ms Butler had previously told the court she was “left with an emptiness that will never be filled” as a result of her brother’s actions, the judge said.
On identifying a headline sentence of seven years, Mr Justice Burns said he was taking into account the lack of premeditation, the fact there was no weapon used in the fatal assault, and the concern the accused showed towards his father when he returned to the scene.
Sentencing Butler to five years’ imprisonment, with the final year suspended for five years, Mr Justice Burns said he was also taking into account the accused’s lack of any previous convictions, his early guilty plea to the manslaughter charge, the cooperation he provided to investigating gardaí, and the “genuine remorse” he has expressed for his actions.
At a hearing last December, Detective Garda Gordon Kelleher told Mr Justice Burns that a witness had reported seeing “fists flying” in Mr Butler’s hallway as the father and son fought.
Det Gda Kelleher also read out a victim impact statement from the victim’s daughter, Katilyn Butler.
In the statement, Ms Butler recalled the moment when her weeping mother woke her up to say that her dad had died at the hands of her brother.
She said her life since had "changed forever" and although still loved her brother, she "will never be able to forgive him completely".
“I hope we can rebuild our relationship in the future,” she said.
Ms Butler said that not only has she lost her father, she has also “partially lost” her brother.
“From the day I found out my dad had died, I have felt so much anger towards him [Stephen Butler].
“He is still my brother. I still love him but will never be able to forgive him completely.
“Some days I need him and he’s not around, and that is hard.” Ms Butler also indicated that her brother and father had clashed before the fateful night.
“If I could have screamed at the both of them to stop fighting that night, I would have,” she added.
Defence counsel Colman Cody SC said Butler had no previous convictions and his record before this incident had been “unblemished”.
His client, Mr Cody continued, would also have to live the rest of his life in the knowledge that he killed his own father – a man he now missed – and he was deeply remorseful of his actions.
During the trial, the jury of eight women and four men were told that both men had been “taking sly digs” at one another as they drank with others at the Clodagh Bar, across the road from the dead man’s house.
Of the pair, Butler was the first to leave the bar and was standing smoking on the doorstep of his father’s house when Mr Butler arrived home.
Words were exchanged between the two before Mr Butler brushed past his son, shutting the door on him and leaving him standing in the street.
An argument then followed, during which Butler forced his way back into the hallway of house.
“I reckon I hit him seven or eight times,” Butler told gardaí in an interview, which was later read out in court.
“He hit his head on the way down. I got a fright when I saw the mark on the wall. My heart stopped.”
State pathologist Dr Linda Mulligan told the trial a post-mortem indicated Mr Butler had died from a subarachnoid haemorrhage, which had been the result of either a single blow or multiple blows to the side of the head.
The injury, Dr Mulligan said, had been “non-survivable”.