Thursday, January 19, 2023

Paul Neilan

A man who has spent over a quarter of his life in custody has had his jail term increased by two years for his role in the “cold-blooded assassination” of a “big friendly giant”.

Thomas Farnan (37) was shot dead at his front door at Kilcronan Close, Clondalkin, Dublin 22, on April 25th, 2016 and died almost immediately.

Lorcan Merriman (26) of Lealand Close, Clondalkin, had gone on trial for the murder of Mr Farnan before the Central Criminal Court in October 2021 but on the 11th day of the trial entered a plea of guilty to the lesser charge of disposing of the firearm.

Trial judge Mr Justice David Keane said the killing had been a “cold-blooded assassination” and Merriman’s involvement in it arose out of “serious criminality” rather than the accused’s personal circumstances.

The trial heard from Mr Farnan’s partner, Elaine Heffernan, who told prosecution counsel, Roisin Lacey SC, that she heard three gentle taps on the letterbox at about 11.20pm and presumed it was a neighbour who would often call in looking for a cigarette.

Ms Heffernan was in the bedroom and had just entered the hall when she heard Mr Farnan turn the lock in the door, followed immediately by a loud bang and the sound of glass shattering.

“It happened in a split second,” she told the trial, before Mr Farnan had even opened the door.

Ms Heffernan said: “Thomas was still standing with his hand on the handle of the door, but he wasn’t answering me, and then he started slowly sliding down, and I put my hands under his arms to stop him falling, and I was still talking to him, but he wasn’t answering me.”

She said: “I just kept screaming at Tom, ‘what is it, what is it’ but he wasn’t answering me.” She began to panic as she saw blood but couldn’t see where it was coming from. Mr Farnan’s face turned grey, she said, and a neighbour arrived, checked his pulse, and said: “He’s gone.”

Paramedics arrived and confirmed that Mr Farnan had died.

Victim impact statement

During a sentencing hearing, Mr Farnan’s mother, Ivona Shortt, said her son’s “brutal” murder would haunt her family forever. In a victim impact statement read to the court, Ms Shortt described her son as a “big friendly giant” who was loved for his quick wit, kindness and generosity.

At the trial, Chief State Pathologist Dr Linda Mulligan told Ms Lacey that Mr Farnan was shot at least five times resulting in nine separate injuries. A single bullet that travelled through his right arm, chest and heart caused his death.

Merriman, who the court heard had spent almost one quarter of his life in custody, was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment with the final 18 months suspended.

However, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) sought a review of the sentence on grounds of undue leniency.

In a published judgement, the Court of Appeal increased Merriman’s sentence by two years.

Appeal court president Mr Justice George Birmingham said that during the course of the murder investigation, the respondent, Merriman, emerged as a person of interest.

“His dwelling was searched, and a pair of jeans and a jacket were taken from his bedroom by gardaí. When forensically examined, firearms residue was located on the clothing containing the same range of elements as the residue that had been found on discharged bullet casings found at the scene of the murder.”

Mr Justice Birmingham said that a further search of the respondent’s dwelling was carried out and that this search uncovered a submachine gun, two magazines and 25 rounds of ammunition.

In March 2018, Merriman was charged and subsequently pleaded guilty to two counts of the possession of firearms and ammunition in suspicious circumstances. In July 2018, Merriman was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, backdated to March 2018 for those offences.

Mr Justice Birmingham said it was to be noted that firearm located in the course of that search was not the firearm that was used in the course of the murder of Mr Farnan.

Headline sentence

Mr Justice Birmingham said that the trial judge initially identified a headline sentence of eight years for disposing of the weapon used in Mr Farnan’s murder, “but then having regard to the factors that he saw as aggravating and mitigating, the sentencing judge indicated that the appropriate sentence was one of six years imprisonment with the final 18 months suspended”.

“The trial judge determined to make the sentence consecutive to the five-year sentence earlier imposed on Merriman due to the seriousness of both offences,” he said.

Taking rehabilitation into account, the trial judge sentenced Merriman to four years’ imprisonment with 18 months suspended for disposing of the weapon used in Mr Farnan’s murder.

Mr Justice Birmingham said: “That decision is at the heart of the present application to review, because the Director (DPP) says that the judge erred when he went on to reduce the sentence originally indicated as appropriate, by reference to the principle of totality, and did so to such an extent that the respondent ultimately received a sentence of shorter duration than he would have received if the instant sentence had not been made consecutive.”

Mr Justice Birmingham noted that while Merriman was a promising soccer player, who left school after his Junior Certificate, he proceeded to “drift into both drug use and criminality”.

“Approximately 60 previous convictions were recorded in respect of the period of 2016 to 2019 for offending behaviour that seems to have occurred from 2014 onwards. Most, if not all, of the convictions recorded were from the District Court and were for matters such as theft, robbery, burglary, criminal damage, unauthorised taking of motor vehicles, interference with motor vehicles, offences of public disorder and offences relating to misuse of drugs,” said the judge.

“It does seem to us that the sentencing judge fell into significant error in that at the time of the sentencing hearing, as the respondent was not actually serving a sentence, because the firearms offence sentence had by that point in time been served in full,” Mr Justice Birmingham said.

“It seems to follow that the appropriate cause of action, therefore, would have been to impose the sentence that had been identified as appropriate, that being one of six years with 18 months suspended, and then to address the question of the date from which that sentence should run,” he said.

“We agree with the Director (DPP) that the sentence of six years with 18 months suspended would have to be regarded as lenient; indeed had we been sentencing at first instance, we might well have been somewhat less lenient. In our view, the reduction from a sentence of six years with 18 months suspended to one of four years with 18 months suspended was not justified, and it has resulted in a sentence that fails to reflect the seriousness of this offence committed by this offender. It thus constitutes an error, and one requiring intervention.”

Mr Justice Birmingham then said the appeal court would quash the sentence imposed in the Central Criminal Court and substituted a sentence of six years imprisonment with 18 months of that sentence suspended, during which time Merriman is to be under the supervision of the probation service.

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