A CORK man who killed his friend by repeatedly punching him in the head during a pub row after drinking 20 pints has been jailed for eight years for manslaughter.
Sentencing Michael Dineen at the Central Criminal Court this evening (Mon), Mr Justice Alexander Owens said the attack was a "one-sided and unequal affair", where the deceased had taken "a battering" from "prolonged punching".
Dineen, who has a history of violent offending, was on bail awaiting sentence for breaking another man's jaw when he killed Patrick 'Ginty' O'Donnell.
Earlier, the court heard that Dineen had failed to listen to his wife when she came into the pub that day and tried to persuade him to leave.
The court also heard that Dineen (28), who shouted that he was "the king of Mitchelstown" after the attack, now prays "on a daily basis" for the victim.
Dineen was found not guilty of murder but guilty of the manslaughter of Mr O'Donnell (36) by unanimous verdict on December 6 last.
Former State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy gave evidence during the 10-day trial that Mr O'Donnell died from inhaling his own blood and teeth after he suffered serious injuries to his face and head.
Prof Cassidy testified that Mr O'Donnell had lost seven teeth in the assault and she found one of these lodged in his trachea and another lodged in the bronchi leading to his left lung. His nose had also been fractured and flattened.
Dineen of Ard Mhuileann, Ballinwillin, Mitchelstown, had pleaded not (NOT) guilty to murder but guilty to the manslaughter of Mr O'Donnell at Willie Andies bar on New Square, Mitchelstown on June 1, 2018. An early plea of manslaughter had been offered by Dineen in advance of his trial but this was not accepted by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Passing sentence, Mr Justice Owens noted that the reality of the jury's verdict last December was that Dineen did not intend to cause serious harm to Mr O'Donnell because he was too drunk.
The judge said that both men were settled members of the Traveller Community and Dineen had been drinking most of the day prior to the killing. Dineen had knocked Mr O'Donnell to the ground by delivering a blow to his head, said the judge, and the defendant then proceeded to hit him to the face with both fists for a minute. "He could not be persuaded to stop and also delivered a number of kicks to his body," he added.
Mr Justice Owens observed that Dineen threw a pint of water over Mr O'Donnell's face but the deceased's had never regained consciousness. The judge called it a "a one-sided and unequal affair" where Mr O'Donnell had taken "a battering". Dineen had used both fists in the attack and inflicted injuries on the deceased as a result of prolonged punching, he said.
The judge emphasised that Dineen's lack of self-control had fuelled his aggression on the night and he should be aware that he has the capacity to become very aggressive when he is drunk.
Referring to the defendant, the judge said his mindset leaving the pub that night was that he had been involved in a "bare-knuckle fight" and had won. He did have some awareness at the time of what he did and the seriousness of the injuries he had inflicted, he said.
CCTV footage shown to the trial indicated that Dineen was agitated at various times during the evening, said the judge, adding that he had poked Mr O'Donnell and invaded his personal space.
Before delivering the sentence, Mr Justice Owens said Dineen had committed this offence whilst he was on bail for breaking another man's jaw and had been awaiting sentence for that offence. The judge said this was an aggravating factor in the case as it showed a history of violent offending.
Furthermore, the judge said that the harm done in this case was not just confined to the loss of Mr O'Donnell's life but the effect his death had on his partner and young children.
The judge said he had taken into account the fact that the killing was not premeditated. "He intended to beat him up but not kill him," he indicated.
The judge said the appropriate headline sentence was 12 years but as a result of the mitigating circumstances including his remorse, apology and significant psychiatric history, he would reduce the headline sentence from 12 years to nine years.
Mr Justice Owens said there was also room for partial suspension and he would suspend the final year of the nine year sentence if Dineen abstained from alcohol forever and remain under the supervision of probation services.
Dineen was sentenced to nine years imprisonment with the last year suspended, backdated to March 15, 2019.
At Dineen's sentence hearing this morning (Mon), the deceased’s partner of 17 years Leanne Whitehead, gave a victim impact statement to the court.
The mother-of-four said she will never forget the phone call to say that her “Ginty” had been hurt.
“Me and my mum rushed to the pub. When we arrived, there was an ambulance present, then I saw a man putting forensic tape around the pole; my heart sunk. I knew my Ginty was dead. A doctor came out and told us that he had passed away, I went numb. I was in a bubble, how could anyone do something like that and how am I going to tell our children,” said Ms Whitehead.
“Our lives before this tragic night was a loving caring family, our trips fishing, camping, going to Galway, we were a happy family,” she continued.
Ms Whitehead said that her partner Ginty was “always there” for them. “Our two oldest boys were like Ginty’s shadows and they are completely lost without him. This night has changed my children’s lives, my own life and his mother and siblings lives," she said.
The witness said she has had to console their children at night when they woke up with nightmares or crying because they wanted “their daddy back,”. She told the court that to see her children “so hurt and upset” was unbearable.
“Our children will not visit the cemetery, it’s too upsetting for them. Our children are lost without their dad’s presence, the feel of his hugs and the sound of his voice,” she said.
Ms Whitehead said she wakes up everyday in an empty bed and goes to bed at night in an empty bed. “The hugs, the kisses, the chats we use to have, the feel of his skin, the warmth of his presence and the feeling of his safeness, it’s all gone,” she continued.
Ms Whitehead said she is now on medication and attends counselling. “Daily chores are a struggle for me, getting the kids to school is a struggle, just not being able to pick up the phone to say hello and hear his reassuring voice," she said.
As a result of this event, Ms Whitehead said she is “so afraid” that something might happen to someone else so she is overprotective of her four children.
The witness said she never thought that her partner would come out of the pub in a body bag after going there for a few drinks following a week’s work. “I am trying to stay strong for our children but the loss, depression and anxiety makes daily chores a challenge,” she continued.
“I can never explain the hole in our hearts and it will never ever be filled now. I have to be a mother and a father which was not my choice,” she said.
“Ginty’s mother Irene is heartbroken, she always says to me that a mother should always go before their child. He had his whole life ahead of him,” concluded Ms Whitehead.
At today’s sentence hearing Detective Sergeant James O’Shea of Fermoy Garda Station, summarised the facts of the case.
Det Sgt O’Shea told prosecution counsel Dean Kelly BL that Michael Dineen was with some friends at Willie Andies bar on New Square, Mitchelstown on June 1, 2018.
Theresa Walsh gave evidence in the trial that she was in charge of the pub that day and Dineen had come in at 12 noon, said the witness.
The witness agreed with Mr Justice Alexander Owens that the defendant had a “colossal amount” to drink that day. The court heard that Mr O’Donnell had joined Dineen after work at 7.15pm and a fight broke out between the two men at 10.20pm that night.
Ms Walsh gave evidence in the trial that she heard a chair falling and it appeared Mr O’Donnell had “left his seat and could be seen moving through the air”, said Mr Kelly.
She said that Dineen punched him in the face and Mr O’Donnell was not capable of defending himself. “She said she was screaming for him to stop and he wouldn’t stop so she ran up the bar to get help,” said Mr Kelly.
Dineen had thrown a pint of water over his friend to resuscitate him before he ran to the front of the pub and shouted out that he was “the king of Mitchelstown,” said Mr Kelly.
Dineen was quickly identified as a suspect in the case and gardaí went to his house that night. On the way to Fermoy Garda Station, Dineen asked detectives if Mr O'Donnell was alright and enquired if he was dead, said Mr Kelly.
The court also heard that Dineen told gardaí on his way to the station: “Ginty O’Donnell came into the pub and asked me did I have his pint. I said no. I don’t give a fuck, he hit me first and he got the shit kicked out of him.” Dineen was also recorded as saying: “What will I do, I killed my friend”.
Mr Justice Owens interjected at this point and said he recollected from the trial that Dineen had mentioned self-defence during his interviews with gardaí and had apologised for what happened.
The court heard Dineen has 65 previous convictions including criminal damage, assault causing harm and road traffic offences.
Mr Kelly said the DPP was of the opinion that this incident fell into the "high culpability bracket" and warranted between ten and 15 years in prison.
Under cross-examination, Det Sgt O’Shea agreed with Brendan Grehan SC, defending, that there was “no animus” between the two men.
The detective also agreed with Mr Grehan that no kicks had been administered to the deceased’s head. The barrister said the damage had been inflicted through punches, which were delivered in a very short amount of time.
The detective further agreed with Mr Grehan that this event “blew up” after his client drank a pint belonging to Mr O’Donnell. Dineen had tried to buy a pint back for Mr O’Donnell but offence was taken and things escalated from there, said the defence barrister.
Mr Grehan said this event also had consequences for Dineen’s family as they had to move from their home in Mitchelstown to Mallow, where there would be more support.
Det Sgt O’Shea agreed that Dineen was upset and shocked when he found out that his friend was dead. They use to go hunting together and there had been a recent transaction between the two men concerning a sulky cart, said Mr Grehan.
Mr Grehan submitted to the court that this case fell within the medium culpability bracket as no weapon was used and there was no pre-meditation, “It’s quite apparent his immediate reaction was to get a pint of water and throw it in the deceased’s face. This was not an outcome which the accused sought to bring about even though he was responsible,” submitted Mr Grehan.
The lawyer said his client wanted to reiterate his deep sorrow and regret for killing his friend. “He did not set out to do it and it will haunt him forever,” Mr Grehan said, adding that Dineen prays on a daily basis for the deceased.
Mr Grehan said Dineen was not proud of his behaviour that night and he had not become consciously aware that his friend had died until he was told by gardaí the following night. “From then on, there has been a consistent thread of remorse, regret and apology for his actions,” he submitted.
He said Dineen had consumed 20 pints on the day and he did not shy away from the fact that drink was a central factor in the case. “If only he listened to his wife when she came into the pub and tried to persuade him to leave. He told her he would come home but he had no intention of leaving,” said the lawyer.
Mr Grehan said his client could not rationalise how he was responsible for his “good friend’s death”. “He can only express sorrow to the family for what they have to deal with and he recognises that drink is a central factor,” he outlined.
In conclusion, the defence barrister asked the court to be as lenient as possible when sentencing his client and to consider in mitigation the manner in which he has behaved since the event.