A Limerick man who almost caused a massive explosion that could have killed him has lost his appeal against the severity of a five-year jail sentence, imposed for his attempt to blow up an ATM at a filling station in Cork last year.
Evan Stubbins (25), an unemployed single man of Church Road, Croom, Co Limerick, was convicted at Cork Circuit Criminal Court last November on possession of explosives, after pleading guilty to possessing a blow torch and canisters containing oxygen and propane in an attempt to blow up an ATM at the Maxol garage at Carr’s Hill, Carrigaline, Co Cork on August 2nd, 2020.
He also pleaded guilty to separate charges of criminal damage and attempted theft.
The court heard that Stubbins had used YouTube to research mixing chemicals to blow up the ATM, in order to steal its contents.
Evidence was heard that the filling station had tanks containing 30,000 litres of fuel which could have destroyed houses 200 metres away if ignited.
Stubbins’ criminal plans were foiled when a passing Garda patrol spotted him using a screwdriver on the ATM. The explosive material was subsequently discovered in the appellant’s Volkswagen Passat.
At a sitting of the Court of Appeal, counsel for Stubbins, Ray Boland BL, argued that the sentencing judge, Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin, had not given the appellant a sufficient reduction off the headline sentence of seven years for his signed guilty plea.
Mr Boland claimed there was legal precedence that signed pleas should attract a reduction of around a third off the headline sentence.
Counsel said the judge has also erred by failing to further reduce the length of the sentence by taking into account various mitigating factors including Stubbins’ youth, his cooperation with gardaí and the fact that the offence was committed under duress as part of his efforts to pay off a drug debt to unnamed individuals.
Lack of sophistication
Mr Boland also argued Judge Ó Donnabháin had erred in principle by claiming the lack of sophistication in Stubbins’ crime was an aggravating factor when it should have been treated as a mitigating factor.
He claimed numerous judgements had consistently considered the sophistication of an offence to be an aggravating factor.
Mr Boland said Stubbins’ lack of sophistication arose from his use of the internet to prepare for the crime and the fact that he was the only one at risk of serious injury.
However, the president of the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice George Birmingham, questioned if the usual treatment regarding the sophistication of a crime applied to explosive offences.
Mr Justice Birmingham noted the lack of sophistication by the appellant meant he posed an ever greater risk to himself and others.
Opposing the appeal, counsel for the DPP, Donal McCarthy, said the fact that Stubbins was caught “red-handed” by gardaí meant his guilty plea did not have the same mitigating value as one where the prosecution would have been required to prove various gaps in evidence for the alleged offence.
Mr McCarthy said the five-year jail sentence was appropriate, given all the circumstances of the case.
In reply, Mr Boland said any mitigation allowed by Judge Ó Donnabháin was not transparent, while Stubbins’ guilty plea had spared the State from having to prove “quite complex scientific matters” as well as intent.
Giving the Court of Appeal’s ruling, Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy with Mr Justice Birmingham and Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy, said it was their view that the headline sentence of seven years was “entirely appropriate” given the serious nature of the offence.
“This was a serious offence with considerable planning required,” she observed.
While the five-year jail term was “somewhat on the high side,” Ms Justice Kennedy said it was within the margin allowed.
She said the court had not been persuaded there had been an error in principle as the risk that Stubbins placed himself and others in was exacerbated by the lack of sophistication of the offence.