A teenage boy who committed violent disorder outside a house party where 20-year-old college student Cameron Blair was murdered has become "a pariah" in his community, the Central Criminal Court was told today.
The court also heard during today's sentence hearing that the incident has had a "monumental effect" on the now 16-year-old accused, who cannot be named because he is a minor, and his family have had to "swap" homes with the boy's grandparents "to keep him out of trouble".
The juvenile's defence counsel, Timothy O'Leary SC, asked Mr Justice David Keane to give the boy "a chance" saying: "What is the actual purpose of putting him in jail when he has a chance to be a functioning person; a mechanic".
The barrister also said that his client had "got caught up in this awful maelstrom" which had led to the "tragic death" of Cameron Blair.
The boy went on trial on May 28 charged with the production of a knife at a house on Bandon Road in Cork city on January 16, 2020.
He had been on trial at the Central Criminal Court for almost three weeks before the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) decided not to continue with the charge.
The DPP will enter a nolle prosequi against the teenager in due course meaning that the State will not be proceeding with the charge of producing a knife against the juvenile.
The accused, who was 14 at the time of the incident, had pleaded not guilty to producing an article capable of inflicting serious injury in the course of a dispute, to wit a knife, in a manner likely to unlawfully intimidate another person.
Before the State opened its case in May, the boy pleaded guilty to committing violent disorder with two other persons present together, using or threatening to use unlawful violence, and such conduct taken together would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at Bandon Road in Cork city to fear for his or another person's safety at the said place on the same occasion.
Cameron was a native of Ballinascarthy in west Cork and a second-year chemical engineering student at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT). He died at Cork University Hospital (CUH) on January 16, 2020 after being stabbed in the neck while attending a student party at a house in Cork city. Another juvenile has already pleaded guilty to his murder.
It was the defence contention during the trial that two boys out of a group of three who had gathered outside the house were in possession of a knife on the night but not the defendant in this case. One of the boys has admitted murdering Cameron and another has pleaded guilty to violent disorder and to the production of a knife.
However, it was the State's case that each of the three boys had a knife on the night.
At today's sentence hearing, prosecution counsel John Fitzgerald SC said the trial concluded after the DPP indicated it was not proceeding with the count of possession of a knife, in circumstances where the accused accepted that he was in possession of a butter knife during the course of events on the evening.
Mr Fitzgerald called Inspector Martin Canny, of Henry Street Garda Station, who summarised the facts of the case. He told Mr Fitzgerald that a party was taking place on Bandon Road during Freshers' Week at UCC and one of the guests was Cameron Blair. A number of people who knew each other congregated at the party and were drinking alcohol, said the witness, adding that some party-goers had consumed drugs.
An older drunk man, who was trying to get into the house was pushed back out of the house by Darren O'Leary, who was renting a room in the student accommodation, with the assistance of Cameron. Three youths who were not invited to the party and were standing outside noticed the incident and one of them was the accused. Cameron then prevailed on Mr O'Leary to invite the three youths into the house and they went inside the house.
Shortly after 9pm, one of the party-goers asked one of the teenagers with the accused if he would be able to source some cannabis for him and he [friend of the accused] was able to do so. There was a misunderstanding or disagreement for the amount paid for the drugs, which were later weighed. The dispute altered the atmosphere of the house party and later led to a desire on the part of the occupants in the house to end it and move everyone out of the house, said Mr Fitzgerald, adding that there was an understanding amongst the party-goers that this was a "temporary" measure.
The three youths did not wish to leave the house and tried to get back in. There was an indication by the group that a phone charger had been left inside and it was passed out to them. There was also "an indication", Mr Fitzgerald said, that the group had left some drugs inside, which they wanted to retrieve.
Cameron was standing at the door with Mr O'Leary and was trying to keep the three youths outside the house. An altercation and verbal exchanges ensued between the two groups and when a girl at the party went to move people away, she was punched by the accused, said counsel.
Shortly before 9.30pm, people at the party heard "references" to knives, which were then produced, he said.
Mr Fitzgerald said it was the DPP's position that the accused in this case was in the possession of a butter knife. The barrister said that some witnesses saw the butter knife by his side, others saw him attempt to push through the door with it and other witnesses heard him say that he wanted "to shank people with it".
Counsel said that another juvenile had produced a knife and stabbed Cameron very quickly in the neck with it.
In April 2020, a teenage boy, then aged 17, who murdered Cameron by plunging a knife into his neck, received a life sentence that will be reviewed in 2032. The boy, who could not be named because he was a minor, pleaded guilty to murdering Cameron on Bandon Road in Co Cork on January 16, 2020.
Mr Fitzgerald said the three youths ran away from the scene after the stabbing. In the aftermath of the attack, Cameron had walked back into the house and did not realise that he had been stabbed. He collapsed quickly, bled from the neck and was removed to CUH by ambulance, where he was pronounced dead that evening, said counsel.
Mr Fitzgerald said the accused in this case ran from the scene but later returned to the road. The court heard he ran away again and was apprehended shortly afterwards. An investigation took place and he was ultimately charged with violent disorder and possession of a knife.
The teenager has no previous convictions but was involved with the Garda's Juvenile Liaison Service on four occasions.
Insp Canny agreed with defence counsel Timothy O'Leary SC, for the teenager, that the only charge his client now faces is violent disorder, which he had pleaded guilty to.
The Inspector also agreed that one was dealing with a case where a 14-year-old boy was with his friends on the night, who were 17 and 18 years of age at the time and those inside the party were between 19 and 21 years of age.
Mr O'Leary said the three youths had "fell" into the party on "a very random basis", where an older man had been pushed out of the house onto a footpath. The three local boys were giving out about that, he noted, adding that Cameron then called the group "sound" and they were invited inside.
The witness agreed that the group had not "forced" their way inside. He further agreed that his client was offered "vodka in a bowl" at the party as the party-goers had ran out of cups and glasses to drink out of.
Mr O'Leary said that the issue regarding the drugs had started the argument and the three boys were "pushed" out the door and then made to leave the house. Counsel said it was the case that they then wanted to come back inside the party again and his client accepted that he had hit a girl.
The barrister said his client had walked from the scene, not ran and he then came back to the street on his own. "Whereas the other 'heroes', the 17 and 18-year-olds, ran and didn't come back with their knives," said Mr O'Leary, adding that his client's actions were hardly that of a "very guilty person".
Mr Fitzgerald told Mr Justice Keane that he should base his sentence on the evidence which he heard at the trial, namely that the accused was holding a butter knife and had punched a young girl. "Those are the matters on which the court in the Director's view should base its sentence," he said.
Regarding the charge of production of a knife, Mr Fitzgerald said the court should disregard that as it is now the State's case that he had a butter knife, which would not come within the meaning of the original charge.
In mitigation, Mr O'Leary said the court was now concerned with the offence of violent disorder, which his client had pleaded guilty to at the outset of the trial. He said the boy comes from a very stable and supportive family and had a limited memory of the night. "He remembers a female shouting at him and remembers pushing her, feeling scared and he then lashed out. He can't remember how he hit her but describes his behaviour as a reflex action," he explained.
Mr O'Leary went on to say that the boy accepted that he discarded the butter knife and did not see the fatal stabbing of Cameron.
He asked the court to take into account that the juvenile had identified the victim, the victim's family, the female he hit and his own family as all "victims in the case" and had stated that he was sorry for his actions.
A probation report was made available to the court in which the officer said that the boy did not understand the full seriousness of the offence, something Mr O'Leary said he was "stuck with".
He also said that the report states that the teenager does not see how his own behaviour had caused "all the consequences" on that "very sad night".
"He presents as an impressionable and impulsive young person with a lack of emotional development," said the lawyer. The probation officer said he was at moderate risk of re-offending in the next year, the court heard.
In his submissions, Mr O'Leary said that this event has had "a monumental effect" on his client's life in Cork, where it was a "very big deal" and he was the youngest of the group. "Therefore everyone knows he is somewhat involved," he said, adding that on a daily basis in school he has found it very difficult to live with.
Mr O'Leary said that other mitigating factors were that his client does not present with any substance misuse issues and is committed to his full time education. He hopes to become a mechanic, the court heard.
After the offence, Mr O'Leary said that the boy's mother had to "swap" her house with her parents house to keep her son out of trouble and "to have a higher level of parental supervision".
There was now a social worker assigned to the family and the teenager "is a pariah to a certain extent" due to his involvement in the matter, said Mr O'Leary.
Counsel said his client appreciates that "his liberty may be in jeopardy" and that custody was an option, if that was the course to be adopted by the court. "I'm actually asking for a chance for this boy and I wouldn't do it lightly," he said. If it was not for the "awful consequences" for Cameron in this case, Mr O'Leary said probation would be granted to his young client in a lower court. "I have no doubt about that. He got caught up in this awful maelstrom which led to a tragic death," he added.
The barrister said his client did not behave well and hitting a girl and having a butter knife were not "nice things". "But what is the actual purpose of putting him in jail in the context when he has the chance to be a functioning person; a mechanic. I'm asking for a chance for this boy," he submitted.
Mr Justice Keane remanded the defendant on continuing bail until Friday, when the case will be mentioned in order to finalise a date for sentence.
At the outset of the trial, Dave Sheehan, who described himself as one of Cameron's best friends, gave evidence that Cameron's friend was having a party at a house on Bandon Road in Cork at around 7.30pm on the evening of Thursday January 16 last year. The party took place during UCC Freshers' Week.
Mr Sheehan said there was a knock at the front door during the party and Cameron opened it to find "a drunk man in his forties trying to get into the house." The knocking persisted and the man attempted to get into the house on several occasions. Darren O'Leary, who was an occupant of the rented accommodation, gave the drunk man a bit of a slap in the face, which caused him to fall on the ground, said the witness.
Mr Sheehan testified that three boys, who he had never met before, were standing on the footpath outside the house. "They were saying to us it was lousy what had happened to the man, they were telling us to cop on," he added.
Mr Sheehan said himself and Cameron picked up the man and they began talking to the boys. "Cameron said they were sound and to let them come into the party," he said. The witness described the atmosphere as "normal and calm" and said there was no tension at that stage. Mr Sheehan agreed that he had taken a photo of the three boys at one point, which the jury were given copies of.
Mr Sheehan said the atmosphere changed later in the night and the three boys, who were at this stage standing outside the house, said they wanted to talk to "the Polish fella" who they said was "trying to rip them off". He said the three boys were each holding a knife and standing on the edge of the footpath facing the front door.
Prosecution counsel John Fitzgerald SC asked Mr Sheehan if he saw the 16-year-old accused with a knife and he replied: "Yes, it was small, the blade was no more than four inches, it was a small knife." When asked how the accused was holding the knife, the witness said "down by his side in his left hand".
A girl who came out of the house and told the group of three boys to leave was punched by one of the group, who then laughed, the witness said.
Mr Sheehan said he had not seen the boy, who has already pleaded guilty to his friend's murder, do anything to Cameron as he was staring at the girl who was punched. He said that the 16-year-old accused boy was "staring in the doorway" and "looked shocked". He then ran in the same direction as his two friends.
He said it was only when the three boys had gone that he saw his friend Cameron in the doorway of the house. "He was holding his neck, he had been stabbed. I went into the house and took my phone out and called 911," he said.
Under cross-examination, defence counsel Timothy O'Leary SC put it to the witness that the incident which "kicked things off" was when the older man had tried to gain access to the party. "Yes, we would never have talked to the three boys outside if it wasn't for him," he replied.
Asked how long the accused had the knife in his hand, Mr Sheehan said for "at least three or four minutes". "He was standing there with a knife in his left hand facing towards the doorway and having an argument with my friends about wanting to get back in," he said.
When further asked what the 16-year-old accused was doing with the knife in his hand for those "three or four minutes", Mr Sheehan said the boy had it in his left hand and down by his side for most of the time and was "waving it around a little bit, arguing and trying to get into the house."
The witness told the accused's defence barrister that he had seen the knife "with my eyes", when it was suggested to him that he had "added on another layer" about the accused having a knife.
The next witness, Marcel Szulhan, testified that three boys, who looked under 18 years of age, arrived at the party that night. "We were all dressed in going out clothes and they were in tracksuits," he remarked.
Mr Szulhan said individuals at the party had "chipped in €5 or €10" to buy €50 worth of cannabis for an "after party" at the house. He said he had asked the tallest of the group of three boys if he could "sort it for us" and one of his friends had given him €50. "We were told it would be three grams of cannabis," he said, adding that "everything got heated up again" after they received the bag of drugs.
Mr Szulhan said that the three boys left the house to get the cannabis and returned sometime later with two separate bags of the drug. "Two or three more lads came back with them, they were the lads who sourced it," he said.
He said the three boys were asked to leave the party later on as they were going into the city and the youngest of the three boys began looking for his phone charger.
When asked by the State if things were getting heated when they were looking for the phone charger, Mr Szulhan said that when the youngest of the boys was leaving the house, he said he would "shank" another person at the party.
Mr Szulhan said he then heard someone scream: "They all have knives." When asked what he saw happen to Cameron, the witness explained that he saw "a knife being put up and went down". "Cameron turned around whilst holding his neck and said he doesn't want to be fighting and everything was going to be ok," he said.
When Cameron was being put into the ambulance, Mr Szulhan said he saw the "youngest lad" walking back to the house and "looking" before gardaí started to chase him.
In re-examination, Mr Fitzgerald put it to the witness that portions of his statement had been read to him which referred to what a 14-year-old had done. The lawyer asked Mr Szulhan if this was the youngest of the three boys and the witness said it was.
Darren O'Leary, who had hosted the pre-drinks party, testified that an "old drunk fella" had "shouldered in the door" a couple of times on the night and they had thrown him out. "I said to him if he kicked in the door one more time and set foot inside the house I would give him a slap," he said.
He said the door then "came in again" and he gave the old man "an open slap, which wasn't a hard slap at all" before he "fell on his ass" outside the house. Cameron had picked up the old man and three "lads", who were standing in the background, started "giving out about the situation", he continued.
The witness said that Cameron told him that the three lads were "sound or tome" and he brought them into the party. "I said to Cameron this is on your shoulders," he added.
He described the atmosphere as being "awkward at first" with the three boys so he went over to the tallest of them and explained that what had happened outside "wasn't anything serious". "That was grand and we made peace then and things became more comfortable," he said.
The witness said that, later on, someone had mentioned that one of the three teenagers outside the house had "a blade". The witness said he was about to ring 911 but hung up the phone as Cameron told him: "Darren it's fine, they are tome, sound."
People from outside the front of the house then began to run inside and into the bedroom, he said, and that was when he realised that the "middle fella" had a knife. "The blade could have been five to six inches. It was by his side, he had it on his chest area and was waving it around making it obvious he had a knife," he explained. He said that Cameron was intoxicated at the time and didn't know what was going on.
In his cross-examination over two days, defence counsel Mr O'Leary put it to the witness that another juvenile has pleaded guilty to murdering Cameron. "He [the accused] still had a knife," remarked the witness, adding that he was aware another juvenile had pleaded guilty to murdering his friend. The witness said that he accepted that this other juvenile was the person who had killed Cameron.
Counsel also put it to the witness that two of the three boys had knives on the night and one of those two boys had killed Cameron. "So your evidence to me is that the only person you saw with a knife was my client, is that what you are saying?" asked the lawyer. In reply, the witness said "yes".
The lawyer asked the witness how had he managed "to miss" the other knives and to just focus on his then 14-year-old client. "Because when all this was happening I seen him standing at the front door with a knife [sic]," he replied.
"So no one else had a knife," asked counsel. "I only saw him," said the witness.
The host of the party repeated that he had seen the accused "brandishing a knife" at the front door.
The barrister asked the witness if the three boys were "waving" the knives around. The witness said he saw the accused "waving the knife" outside the front door saying: "I seen him with my own eyes, if you say different that is a lie [sic]." He said that he saw no one else with a knife outside the house.
Earlier in his direct evidence, the witness said he had pulled the front door open and Cameron began staggering backwards, with blood coming from his neck. "I knew by the way the blood was coming out that it had hit an artery," he noted.
"I grabbed Cameron by the throat, at this stage he was completely unaware that he had been stabbed. He was looking at the two lads running away," he said.
The witness said he then pulled Cameron into the house, held him inside the door and began applying pressure to his neck to stop the bleeding. "I told him that he had been stabbed, I was holding him up in my hands," he said.
Referring to the 16-year-old accused boy by his full name, the witness said he saw the juvenile staring in the front door of the house "in shock" after the incident, while Mr O'Leary told his friend to close the door until gardaí arrived.
A few seconds later, the host of the party said that Cameron fell back against the door and collapsed. "I fell down with him," he added.
Gardai arrived ten minutes later and cleared the house. "I told them I can't let go as he had been stabbed," he said. When the paramedics arrived, he said he was told to leave the house and stand outside.
The next witness, Ciara Morrissey, testified that she had been "hit" in the eye by "the smallest of the three boys".
Tiernan Quinn told the trial in his direct evidence that the host of the party, Mr O'Leary, had started "clearing" the house, when it was time for the party-goers to go into town. The three boys were "still hanging around" outside the house and trying to come back in "saying they had left an iPhone charger inside," he continued.
"The smaller fella was saying he wanted a charger and a charger was passed out. They had the charger but they were still there causing hassle to get back into the house," he indicated.
Mr Quinn said it was getting "rowdy" at this stage and he saw the "tall fella" pull up his top during the argument and "the smaller fella" said: "Give it to me, I'll shank one of them."
The witness said that "the tall fella and the small fella" were "reaching around" Cameron at the doorway "trying to get past him" and punches were being thrown. "I remember looking up and Cameron was blocking the doorway and the small lad and tall lad were trying to reach past him with knives in their hands," he remarked.
Mr Fitzgerald asked the witness if he could say by reference to a photograph which two of the three boys he had seen with knives on the night. "The one on the left and in the middle," he replied.
The jury has heard that the three boys had their photo taken at the party and copies of this had been provided to the jurors. Under cross-examination, Mr O'Leary told Mr Quinn that his client was "the man in the middle" of the photograph.
The witness told the defence that "the tall man" and "the small man" both had knives on the night. The lawyer asked the witness if he had seen two knives on the night and the witness said he had.
"You did not see three knives," pressed Mr O'Leary. "No", replied Mr Quinn.
Mr O'Leary asked the witness if he knew that the two other boys in the group had already pleaded guilty to having a knife. Mr Quinn said he did.
Tim Slattery gave evidence that Cameron and others were trying "to clear the three lads" out of the house and that was when "the knives came out" and "the fight broke out". "I remember the smallest male mentioned something about a shank", he said. He continued: "The taller male produced a knife and the shorter male had a knife as well".