A man killed in his own home had his head stamped on by a 35-year-old Waterford man to such an extent that a State pathologist described the injuries as being akin to a traffic accident, the Central Criminal Court heard on Monday.
“The effect was so extreme that he behaved like a beast,” said Mr Justice Tony Hunt of Garrett Smith (35), St John’s Park, Waterford, who denied the murder of Edward O’Sullivan, also known as Liam, in Mr O’Sullivan’s apartment in Kilkenny.
In her victim impact statement, Mr O’Sullivan’s former partner told the court that the family had to have a closed coffin due to the injuries he suffered and that his children ask: “How do you know daddy was in the coffin?”
Smith stood trial and was subsequently found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter. He was also found guilty of violent disorder, at High Hayes Terrace, Kilkenny in the early hours of February 6th, 2020.
At Monday’s sentencing hearing, counsel for the prosecution, Seán Guerin SC presented the evidence of Garda Inspector James O’Brien.
Inspector O’Brien confirmed that the deceased, who was 46 at the time of his death, was found lying in a pool of blood just inside the door of his apartment.
He had very serious facial injuries and was treated at the scene by emergency services, with CPR administered when he stopped breathing.
There was a large amount of blood on the floor and blood splattering on the wall of the apartment.
The accused was arrested a short distance from the apartment with blood on his clothing and footwear. He was intoxicated and was arrested on a charge of assault causing harm.
Inspector O’Brien confirmed that on the previous evening, there had been a number of people present in the home of the deceased, and there was evidence of alcohol consumption by all parties.
Inspector O’Brien said that at some point, a row broke out that developed into a physical altercation. The focus of this altercation involved the accused, the deceased, and others.
One person gave evidence that he struck Smith over the head with a saucepan, and there was some punching and wrestling.
This altercation quieted down and ended, and Mr O’Sullivan asked everyone to leave his home.
A further altercation involving Smith took place outside the apartment and the person who had previously struck Smith gave evidence that he then broke a brush over Smith’s head and kicked him.
Smith then left the group, and Ms Rebecca Walsh gave evidence that she went back into the apartment to find him.
When she arrived inside, she saw Mr O’Sullivan on the ground badly injured. She said she saw Smith stamping repeatedly on Mr O’Sullivan’s head and face and punching him. Mr O’Sullivan’s face was badly swollen and bleeding, and he was making a gurgling sound, she said.
Ms Walsh said she heard Smith say, “You’re a big man now without your friends.”
She said she tried to intervene, but Smith threatened her that the same thing would happen to her.
Inspector O’Brien’s evidence went on to outline that Smith and Ms Walsh had been drinking since 11am the previous day, first in the pub and then by the river, before they went to Mr O’Sullivan’s apartment with alcohol.
State pathologist, Dr Heidi Okkers gave evidence during the trial that Mr O’Sullivan suffered damage to his abdomen, broken ribs, and multiple bone injuries including damage to the skull, nose, and jawbone. He suffered internal bleeding and asphyxiation, as well as a traumatic brain injury.
Dr Okkers described the brain injury as being akin to a road traffic accident. She said that any of the injuries could have been fatal.
A technical examination showed that the pattern of blood spray on Smith’s clothes was consistent with him standing over Mr O’Sullivan stamping on him with his right foot.
When interviewed by gardaí, Smith said that the last thing he remembered was leaving the flat. Smith had eight previous convictions, including one for section 2 assault back in 2009.
Pauline Farrell, a former partner of Mr O’Sullivan’s, gave a victim impact statement to the court.
“I’ve never been through anything so traumatic in my life. The kids are barely coping, and I’m trying to hold it together,” said Ms Farrell.
“It was so traumatic seeing that blood and all the bloody footprints. Even if I see a footprint in the ground from the rain, I get flashbacks.”
She said that the family had to have a closed coffin due to the injuries Mr O’Sullivan suffered.
“To this day, the kids are asking “How do you know daddy was in the coffin?” Life will never be the same,” said Ms Farrell. “How can a human being go so far as to do this to another person?”
“He did not want to or deserve to die the way he did. Our kids now have to grow up without a father.”
Mr Justice Hunt told the witness he was very sorry for her and her family.
“This is a senseless way to lose somebody,” he said.
A further victim impact statement was read out by Mr Guerin, that of Lisa Whelan on behalf of the O’Sullivan family. She said that the family’s lives have been changed forever.
“Liam was unrecognisable, and we could only tell it was him by the tattoo on his arm,” said Ms Whelan. “We will never have closure; the pain never goes away. We just have to live with it, and we think about Liam every day,” she said.
In summation, Mr Guerin said that this offence fell into the category of the worst type of such cases.
Counsel for the defence, Colman Cody SC said that Smith was very sorry for what the O’Sullivan family had to go through, and he never meant for it to happen.
“He wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” said Mr Cody. Defence said he disagreed with the court’s assessment that this was the worst type of such offences, as in the majority of such cases an implement or firearm is usually used.
“We’re not clear as to what happened,” counsel said. “A row broke out, and umbrage was taken because he was told to get out,” said Mr Justice Hunt.
“He wasn’t the only one,” said Mr Cody.
“He’s the only one whose trainer prints were on the deceased man’s head,” said Mr Justice Hunt.
Putting the matter back to December 19th next for sentencing, Mr Justice Hunt said: “Very great harm was caused, and the sentence has to be proportionate to that.”