A man has pleaded guilty two days into his trial at the Central Criminal Court for the murder of his former partner, who he kicked and stamped to death in a public toilet in Co Clare last year.
Defence counsel Mark Nicholas SC, for Patrick Ballard, previously told a jury of seven men and five women that his client admitted his actions caused the death of his partner and accepted that her killing was unlawful.
However, Ballard (35), formerly of Ashford Court Hotel, Ennis, Co Clare, had initially pleaded not guilty to murdering Sharon Bennett (29) in the Market area of Ennis on January 28th, 2021. Ms Bennett died in hospital in Limerick two weeks later on February 10, 2021, due to her injuries.
Mr Ballard and Ms Bennett were in a relationship at the time of the murder. Ms Bennett was a mother of two girls, then aged nine and six, from a previous relationship.
On Thursday morning, the court heard evidence from two witnesses present on the night of her murder. However, after lunch, Mr Nicholas asked Mr Justice Paul Burns that his client be re-arraigned. The registrar then read out the charge of murder to Mr Ballard, who replied "guilty".
Mr Justice Burns thanked the jury for their service during the trial, which began on Wednesday and excused them from jury duty for five years. The trial had been expected to last two weeks.
Before Mr Ballard entered his guilty plea, a witness said he tried to stop Ballard attacking Ms Bennett as the accused stamped on her head in a public toilet, telling him: "She can't survive this".
Hussein 'Jamesie' Abdullah, who had been day-drinking with the accused and the deceased, gave evidence to the jury that he tried to intervene in the fatal attack on the night.
Mr Abdullah told Dominic McGinn SC, for the prosecution, that he had been at the drinking spot with Mr Ballard and Ms Bennett in the afternoon of January 28th, 2021, when Ms Bennett started "beating" Mr Ballard, drawing blood from his nose that Mr Hussein helped clean up.
Mr Abdullah told Mr McGinn that things then "went back to normal" after Mr Ballard did not respond to Ms Bennett striking him.
At around 6pm, the witness said, he, the accused and the deceased, went to the public toilet to get out of the cold at the suggestion of Ms Bennett.
Mr Abdullah said things were peaceful between the three drinkers until the "next thing" he knew was that Ms Bennet was on the floor of the toilet.
The witness said that Mr Ballard pushed Ms Bennett, who had been sitting on the toilet, causing her to fall onto the metal floor. The witness said he tried to intervene, but Mr Ballard pushed him away and continued to attack Ms Bennet.
Mr Abdullah said he told Mr Ballard that Ms Bennett "could not survive this, stop it, stop it", that he could not recall how many times Ballard had stamped and kicked her but that "it was bad, it happened just like that".
Mr Abdullah told Mr McGinn that he then left to raise the alarm by phone, returned to his hostel and did not come back.
In his opening speech to the jury, Mr McGinn told the court that Ms Bennett had "lashed out" at Mr Ballard during a prior argument by kicking him in the face as he sat on the ground in the car park. This was seen by some young men who were skateboarding in the car park at the time and those that were drinking with the pair also saw it happening, he added.
Mr McGinn said the evidence would be that "things settled down" between the couple before they moved to the public toilet. "They would habitually go there to stay out of the rain and drink there. It was a single cubicle unit with one toilet in it and a sliding door and one had to put some money into it," he said.
He had also indicated to the jury that various members of the public saw some of what had happened. "They saw a man in the doorway of a toilet repeatedly kicking something or stamping on something. At the time members of the public didn't realise that what he was kicking and stamping on was Ms Bennett's head," he said.
Mr McGinn said an off-duty Garda was passing at the time and was first on the scene. However, by the time the off-duty Garda arrived Mr Ballard had left the scene. The guard found Ms Bennett still alive but in a critical condition with severe injuries to her head and face.
Ms Bennett was taken to hospital where her condition stabilised, but she eventually died on February 10th, 2021.
The barrister further stated that the accused returned to where he was living at Ashford Court Hotel and spoke to the manager, who called the gardaí when he saw blood on Mr Ballard. The accused was then arrested and taken to Shannon Garda Station, where he said "certain things", which counsel said would be part of the case for the jury to consider.
Counsel said the court will hear that Mr Ballard was initially charged with assaulting Ms Bennett. However, the accused was re-arrested on March 24th, 2021 after the mother-of-two died on February 10 and charged with the offence of murder.
Mr Justice Burns adjourned the case to Friday to hear a victim impact statement. The mandatory sentence for murder is life imprisonment.