Tuesday 25 October 2016

Man jailed for shooting of Melanie McCarthy McNamara has jail term cut

Ruaidhrí Giblin

Published 21/01/2016 | 11:29

Melanie McCarthy McNamara
Melanie McCarthy McNamara

A man jailed for the shooting of Melanie McCarthy McNamara in Tallaght four years ago has had his 20 year jail term cut to 17-and-a-half on appeal.

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Keith Hall (26), of Kilmartin Drive, Tallaght, had pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to the manslaughter of 16-year-old Melanie, who was shot dead as she sat in a car with two others in Tallaght on February 8 2012.

His manslaughter plea was accepted by the Director of Public Prosecutions at the Central Criminal Court and he was subsequently sentenced to 20 years imprisonment by Mr Justice Paul Carney on July 31 2013.

Hall successfully appealed his sentence today on grounds that the sentencing judge either ignored or gave insufficient weight to various mitigating factors and it was “utterly unknown” how the figure of 20 years was arrived at.

The Court of Appeal quashed his sentence, reimposed 20 years as the headline figure and suspended the final two-and-a-half years.

Giving judgment, Mr Justice Alan Mahon said the sentencing judge erred in ostensibly failing to take account of the mitigating factors.

The judge had said he was taking Hall's guilty plea into account but it was impossible to discern how much allowance was actually given. The Court of Appeal was doubtful that it was sufficiently taken into account, Mr Justice Mahon said.

His plea should have been afforded greater recognition and some further modest allowance should have been given for his drug addiction and dysfunctional background.

Furthermore, he ought to have given greater consideration to the prospect of rehabilitation in the interest of Hall himself and society in general.

Hall would not have access to drugs while serving a lengthy prison sentence and would have a real opportunity to cure himself. He also had strong family support and was genuinely remorseful which all pointed to the possibility of rehabilitation.

As stated recently by the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice Mahon said the failure to clearly identify the extent to which allowance was made for mitigating factors represented a departure from best practice.

Mr Justice Mahon, who sat with Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice John Edwards, said the court would quash the sentence, reimpose 20 years as the headline figure and suspend the final two-and-a-half years.

Hall was required to enter into his own bond to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for the suspended period of his sentence. When asked if he undertook to be so bound he said: “I do, yeah”.

Moving his appeal in December, Hall's barrister, Caroline Biggs SC, submitted that on any reading of the sentencing judge's remarks, it was impossible to know what discount, if any, was given for Hall's admissions, remorse, his young age and guilty plea.

None of the gardaí suggested that Hall was anything but extremely remorseful, Ms Biggs said.

He had not engaged with the gardaí for some sort of self serving purpose and it appeared to have been given very little weight by the sentencing judge, counsel submitted.

Without his admissions, she said, it would have been impossible for the Director to prosecute.

Ms Biggs said the judge's remarks that Hall would have had to have been 'an automotan' to have no remorse for what he did, was “surprising” given Mr Justice Carney's experience.

The court heard that Hall was on crack cocaine and benzodiazepines on the day in question.

Ms Biggs asked the court to understand Hall's background, where he came from and how he came to be addicted.

She said Hall was using intoxicants because they were part of his life.

While his culpability for the crime was present, his intoxication was a "but for" test. Hall himself had said 'but for the crack cocaine I would never have done this', she said.

Ms Biggs submitted that it was "utterly unknown" how the figure of 20 years was arrived at.

There was simply no way of knowing what the judge's starting point was before mitigation came into play, she said.

Counsel for the DPP, Brendan Grehan SC, said the sentencing judge indicated that it was on the higher end of the scale for manslaughter cases.

The room for manoeuvre was between a life sentence and the highest determinant sentence for manslaughter, which was widely regarded by pracitioners as 20 year imprisonment, Mr Grehan said.

Granting Hall a determinant sentence, where he had a release date, effectively mitigated the sentence that might have been forthcoming, Mr Grehan said.

Mr Justice Carney accepted that Hall had remorse but “who couldn't” have remorse for what happened, Mr Grehan said. It was a very serious criminal escapade that Hall had involved himself in.

He said it was “a professional job”; A premeditated shooting which involved preplanning, the stealing of a car, the placing of false number plates and the obtaining of a lethal firearm “so that a child was shot apparently by mistake”.

In response, Ms Biggs said Hall's involvement only began up to one hour-and-a-half prior to events.

Mr Grehan said Hall played a critical part in luring the persons from the house. He knew two people were to be shot and if he had such a problem with drug abuse, as had been submitted, how could he have been trusted by anybody.

When asked why the manslaughter plea was accepted by the DPP, Mr Grehan said it was a pragmatic approach.

He said there would have been legal issues in the trial which "could have gone either way".

Mr Grehan said the judge mitigated what would have been a "perfectly sustainable" life sentence to 20 years and Hall had benefitted from the fact that his plea was accepted.

Mr Justice George Birminham, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Edwards, reserved judgment in December.

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