A 23-year-old man who said he "snapped" and beat his grandfather to death after the pensioner allegedly admitted sexually abusing people has been jailed for four-and-a-half years for manslaughter.
The Cork pensioner was found dead by his wife lying in a pool of his own blood after she returned home from working a night shift, the Central Criminal Court was told today.
The court also heard that despite her efforts to be rehoused, the victim's wife remains living at the scene of the violent killing.
In a letter of apology to his family and the deceased's wife, the defendant wrote: "I do want to apologise to my grandfather. I had no right to be his judge and jury."
In March, Christopher O'Callaghan, of Woodview, Pinecroft, Grange, Douglas, Co Cork pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to the manslaughter of his grandfather Joseph O'Callaghan (66) on July 2, 2018 at Galway's Close, Galway's Lane in Douglas, Cork.
Sentencing Christopher O'Callaghan at the Central Criminal Court today, Mr Justice Paul McDermott said he was satisfied that the accused did not set out with the "remotest intention" to kill or cause serious injury to his grandfather but that is what had happened.
He highlighted that the accused had not been entitled to beat up his grandfather for any alleged wrongdoing against two individuals.
A victim impact statement was read to the court today by Detective Inspector Vincent O’Sullivan on behalf of Joseph O'Callaghan's wife, Angeline O’Callaghan, who said her husband was “needlessly and selfishly killed”.
“Joe was a friend, a kind hearted man, he was a joker and always made me and everyone around laugh,” she said.
“On the night I left for work, I said my goodbyes and told Joe that I would see him in the morning. Little did I know that the following morning I would be walking into a crime scene, where I found Joe lifeless on the floor. There was blood on the wall, bedding and floor.
“For a moment, I thought I was dreaming; broken door, blood on the wall, bedding and floor. I am still emotionally and psychologically scared to this day.
“I am dealing with enormous stress and depression from all the challenges that Joe’s death has left me. The home, I once shared with Joe remained a crime scene for a very long time, a time during which I had to be put up by friends. I tried the council to be rehoused but to no avail, approached TDs and the Tánaiste for assistance but even they were not able to help me and I am expected to carry on with life as normal in a house that was the scene of a violent killing.
“Each time I open my door, I have flashbacks and anxiety attacks. I have spent so much on that house and hired someone to clean up the blood.
“Life has never been the same, at times I drown my fears with alcohol. I have health issues and I am afraid that I might have a mental breakdown if I don’t get out of that house,” she concluded.
Passing sentence, Mr Justice McDermott noted that Mrs O'Callaghan had been left without her husband and this has a continuing effect on her.
She has to live in the house in which she discovered Mr O'Callaghan's body and responsibility for this lies at the accused's door, he said.
The judge said that the accused never set out on the morning of the Munster hurling final to kill his grandfather and it was the furthest thing from his mind. He observed that the accused had consumed a considerable amount of alcohol before knocking on his grandfather's door and asked him straight away if he had sexually abused the two named individuals.
The grandfather refused to give him an answer at first but then said he had, said the judge, and the accused "snapped". The defendant accepted that he had hit him up to four times, kicked him twice and "stomped" on him, he said.
Mr Justice McDermott emphasised that the defendant had told gardaí that he could hear his grandfather breathing when he left the house.
The accused "saw red" when his grandfather admitted what he had done and later told his father that he had given the deceased "a good hiding", he said.
Referring to the defendant, the judge said he told gardaí that if he had realised that he had killed his grandfather he would have gone to him earlier.
"I'm satisfied you did not set out with the remotest intention to kill or cause serious injury to your grandfather but that is what happened," said the judge, adding that the awful event was fuelled by alcohol.
He pointed out that the accused had not been entitled to beat up the deceased for any alleged wrongdoing against two individuals.
Before delivering the sentence, Mr Justice McDermott said there was no doubt he had "snapped" and lost it when his grandfather admitted what he had done.
However, the victim was rendered defenceless by being knocked to the ground beside his bed and the attack continued on the floor, when the victim was not in a position to do anything about it, he said.
The aggravating factors in the case were that he had broken into his grandfather's house in the early hours of the morning and attacked him, when he was clearly encouraged by others to go home.
The victim was in bad health with a heart condition and the accused had gone to his home in an angry state of mind, he said.
Another aspect of the case which caused concern, said the judge, was that the accused disposed of his clothes in the early hours of the morning.
"This was a spontaneous and ill-advised effort to avoid the consequences of your actions rather than to avoid attempts at prosecution for the killing of your grandfather," he said, adding that the defendant had taken full responsibility for everything else when he learned of the man's death.
Furthermore, the accused had made no effort to obtain assistance for his grandfather and this may have been because he did not fully appreciate the injuries he had inflicted on the deceased, said the judge.
The judge said the appropriate headline sentence before mitigation was seven and a half years.
In mitigation, Mr Justice McDermott noted the accused's early guilty plea, his decision to go to the garda station with his uncle, his interviews with gardaí, his sincere remorse and his significant efforts with alcohol abuse.
In summary, the judge said terrible damage had been inflicted on those who loved Joseph O'Callaghan and that could not be undone.
Christopher O'Callaghan was sentenced to six years imprisonment with the final 18 months suspended.
The terms of the suspension include that he abstain from alcohol, attend drug and alcohol treatment and continue with his studies and employment.
At today's sentence hearing Det Insp Vincent O’Sullivan summarised the facts of the case.
Det Insp O’Sullivan agreed with prosecution counsel Sean Gillane SC that the accused had gone with others to Thurles to watch the Munster hurling final on July 1, 2018 and had consumed a considerable amount of alcohol.
The mood soured when the accused learned that his grandfather had allegedly sexually assaulted two named individuals some years ago.
Mr Gillane said this information caused a lot of agitation and upset for the accused man and he began to cry and became very emotional. The father of the accused had noted that his son was “riled up” and “agitated” at the time.
Neighbours later heard a commotion at the front door of Joseph O’Callaghan’s home on the night, said Mr Gillane. The accused told his father that he had given his grandfather “a good hiding”.
Following this, the accused told his aunt that he had struck his grandfather a number of blows before he left the house.
The wife of Joseph O'Callaghan, Angeline O’Callaghan, had worked a night shift and returned home to Galway's Close at 8.10am on the morning of July 2, said Mr Gillane.
Mrs O'Callaghan found the front door damaged and her husband in an injured state on the bedroom floor. She raised the alarm, emergency personnel arrived and Joseph O’Callaghan was pronounced dead, the court heard.
There was blood pooled around the deceased’s head, Mr Gillane said, as well as blood on the bedside locker and skirting boards.
A post-mortem report by Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster found that Joseph O’Callaghan had suffered blunt force trauma to the head and extensive bruising to his scalp and face. His right cheek was fractured and there was a laceration to his upper lip. Mr Gillane said the finding was consistent with the victim having suffered multiple blows and kicks.
The detective agreed with Mr Gillane that the immediate cause of death was due to head injury but his death had been accelerated by heart disease.
The accused later presented himself at Togher Garda Station and told gardaí: “I’m here to hand myself in for my grandfather, I did it.”
Gardai conducted three interviews with the accused in which he accepted that he was responsible for the deceased’s injuries. Christopher O’Callaghan said he wanted to confront his grandfather and not attack him. He told gardaí that his grandfather had opened the door a little and then tried to close it but he had kicked the door and entered the house.
The defendant said that when he put the allegations to him, Mr O'Callaghan accepted that he had sexually abused two named individuals. As a result of this, the accused told gardaí that he had “snapped”.
He told gardaí that he had no intention to kill or cause serious harm to his grandfather, who was alive when he left the house. He said he had punched his grandfather in his bedroom, which caused him to be dazed or dazzled. He also kicked him in the head and upper torso and told gardaí it was a “stomping motion”. He said the incident happened fast and took no more than moments.
The accused has three previous convictions which include driving without insurance and two public order offences, the court heard.
The detective agreed with defence counsel Tom Creed SC that there was confirmation from other individuals that the two individuals had been sexually abused by Joseph O’Callaghan.
The court also heard that the deceased had been prosecuted and found not guilty of sexually assaulting a child. The detective said this was a “completely separate” incident to the case of the two named individuals.
Mr Creed said the granduncles of the accused were both seeking leniency on behalf of the accused man for the tragedy that had occurred.
A probation report and welfare report were made available to the court, which heard that the accused was not likely to re offend if he stayed away from alcohol and drugs.
The accused’s uncle and son of the deceased, Brendan O’Callaghan, took the stand and told the judge that he was asking for leniency for his nephew.
The witness agreed that his relationship had not been the best with his father Joseph and said he was a “huge drinker”, who caused a lot of hassle in the home.
In mitigation, Mr Creed pointed out that the sentiments going through all of the reports were that his client was a caring individual at heart and this criminal event was out of character. He said that mitigating factors were his client's early guilty plea to manslaughter and his remorse.
The defence barrister read aloud to the court a letter of apology written by his client in which he said he wanted to offer his sincere apologies to his family and his grandfather’s wife.
“I’m sorry for the pain my actions have caused. I would do anything to turn back the clock. I do want to apologise to my grandfather. I had no right to be his judge and jury. I’ve turned my life around completely since that night and will never stand before the courts again”.