AN internet and call shop owner has been sentenced to life in prison for murdering a customer, whom he kicked to death after he refused to pay in full for a 70-cent phone call.
Zhen Dong Zhao (36), a Chinese man with an address at Jervis Street in Dublin, had pleaded not guilty to murdering the 40-year-old man on May 20, 2011.
However, he admitted kicking the father-of-two a number of times outside his 24-hour shop, e-Times, on Dublin's Wellington Quay.
Dubliner Noel Fegan was originally from Finglas, but the reformed drug addict had been living in Aughrim Street in the city. He had gone into the shop to phone his 11-year-old daughter from whom he had received a 'Call Me' text.
His daughter testified through a statement that she spoke to her father for a minute and a half. However, Mr Fegan told Zhao he did not get through as he walked towards the front door.
Zhao showed him the 70-cent total on the phone system screen but the trial heard that Mr Fegan refused to pay this; various witnesses said he offered between 10 cent and 40 cent.
Zhao tried to prevent him leaving but Mr Fegan got away, with some customers saying he hit Zhao before he left.
Zhao followed him outside and kicked him a number of times in the back, head and neck with the desert boots he was wearing. Mr Fegan died soon afterwards of bleeding to the brain.
An autopsy found that arteries in Mr Fegan’s neck had been torn due to blunt force trauma. His taking of anticoagulant medicine for a pulmonary embolism was a contributory factor in his death.
The jury of eight men and four women took just under 10 hours over two and a half days to reach a guilty verdict by a majority of 10 to 2. Yesterday’s (Wednesday) verdict followed a 12-day trial at the Central Criminal Court.
It was the prosecution’s case that the accused was the aggressor and that Mr Fegan had posed no threat to him. The State described Mr Fegan as defenceless when he was on the ground outside. Prosecutor Pauline Walley SC said the ‘savage’ kicks to the back of his head had resulted in his death.
She reminded the jury of the evidence of Mr Fegan’s friend, John Wynn, who said the accused seemed proud of what he had done to Mr Fegan and gave a two finger gesture to the deceased afterwards.
The defence had argued for a verdict of manslaughter as a result of provocation.
Defence counsel Brendan Grehan SC told the jury that we could snap, see red and react as a result of something someone had done, in this case the slap to Zhao’s face.
Zhao had told detectives that he’d had trouble with customers not paying in the past, but that this was not about the money.
“It was about him (Mr Fegan) hitting me and his attitude,” he said in a garda interview.
He said that anger had built up after similar and worse episodes and caused him to lose control. He said one customer had refused to pay a €30 phone bill he had clocked up.
“I wanted to warn them not to do this,” he said.
“When these people are around, other people are afraid to come in,” he added, explaining that he was referring to drinkers, drug addicts and people who speak loudly and rudely.
He said that although he did not like ‘these people’, he was sorry Mr Fegan had died.
Mr Grehan said the defendant had over-reacted to something not of his own doing and that the law allowed the jury to recognise the human failing of over-reaction.
However, the jury didn’t agree with this and returned with the guilty verdict at 4.30pm yesterday.
Members of the victim’s family, who were in court throughout the trial, sobbed as Detective Garda Niall O’Reilly read out their victim impact statements.
His mother, Rose Fegan, said it was hard to accept her son’s death. She said he was a loving son, the type who couldn’t do enough for her.
She said he was a very soft person, who was always talking about his own son and daughter.
She said she was proud of how he had turned his life around after his problems with drugs.
His sister, Catherine Doyle, said Mr Fegan was a much loved son, brother and father, who was devoted to his children.
She said he was the first to lend a hand, whether with painting a room or laying a floor.
She said his death had a devastating effect on the family.
“The violent way he died will haunt us for the rest of our lives,” she said.
The defendant’s wife of two and a half months then entered the witness box where she confirmed to Mr Grehan that she they had married on September 19th last, having known each other for a number of years.
Zhu Bai cried as she agreed that her husband truly regretted what had happened, which she said would not be in his character. She also said she wanted to wait for him until he would be freed.
Zhao then stood while Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy imposed the mandatory life sentence on him, backdating it by two months to take into consideration time already spent in custody.
Afterwards, Mr Fegan’s brother, John Fegan issued a statement thanking the jury for ‘serving justice’ on behalf of his brother and thanking the Gardaí involved as well as the prosecution counsel.
“Noel was a loving father, brother and son,” he concluded. “We will always miss you, Noel.”