Thursday 17 August 2017

'Nothing in my life is the same anymore' - victim weeps as gaming convention rapist is jailed

Victim Dominique Meehan speaking outside the Central Criminal Court on Monday. Inset Keith Hearne Photo: Collins
Victim Dominique Meehan speaking outside the Central Criminal Court on Monday. Inset Keith Hearne Photo: Collins

Andrew Phelan and Conor Feehan

A woman who was violently raped by a man in a Dublin hotel during a gaming convention wept and said "nothing in my life is the same anymore" as her rapist was jailed for 12 years.

Keith Hearne (28) brought a “rape kit” with a prop knife, handcuffs, mask and condoms and told the terrified victim: “I could break your neck here and now.”

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy handed down the sentence at the Central Criminal Court today, saying the ordeal had been "devastating” for the victim.

Hearne stood with his arms by his side and stared at the judge as sentence was passed. The victim, Dominique Meehan (24) cried and hugged supporters, some of whom burst into applause as Hearne was led away.

Judge McCarthy backdated the prison sentence to April 2017 and ordered that Hearne is put under post-release probation supervision for five years.

Hearne, from Tallaght, pleaded guilty to two counts of rape, one count of oral rape and one count of falsely imprisoning the woman at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Blanchardstown on July 4, 2015.

Victim Dominique Meehan pictured speaking to media outside Dublin Circuit Court this afternoon Photo: Collins Courts
Victim Dominique Meehan pictured speaking to media outside Dublin Circuit Court this afternoon Photo: Collins Courts

Ms Meehan (24) has waived her right to anonymity.

Evidence was heard previously and the case was back before the court for sentencing today.

Defence barrister Michael Bowman said the accused would continue to have the love and affection of his family unit on release.

He asked that the address of the family home not be reported again in the press as the house had been “targeted by persons who were displeased by his offending behaviour.”

Judge McCarthy said it was a case where it was “frankly difficult” to express the horror of the offence.

“Suffice it to say this is an offence of the utmost seriousness,” he said.

The judge said the accused perpetrated an “extremely violent series of sexual offences” on the victim, extending to her false imprisonment over a period of time.

He noted that when she screamed, Hearne had said: “I have a knife in my bag, if you don’t shut up, I’ll use it.”

The victim had used the words “incredible pain” to describe what she suffered and the judge said at one stage during the attack, the accused had pulled her legs over her head.

A third party heard what was going on and “fortunately” intervened, the judge said.

Having read the victim impact statement, Judge McCarthy said Ms Meehan was a “very impressive person” and “these events have been devastating for her.”

Reading psychiatric reports, the judge said Hearne had schizoaffective disorder and autism spectrum disorder and would require continued psychiatric treatment while in custody.

The psychiatric report found Hearne was “of sound mind” at the time of the offence, so his “culpability was not diminished in any way” notwithstanding his mental health issues, Judge McCarthy said.

If released into the community, Hearne would fall into the “moderate to high risk group” for sexual re-offending, the report concluded.

A probation report put it more “starkly” and stated the accused was at high risk of re-offending.

The judge noted that as a person with psychiatric difficulties, Hearne had “failed to submit properly to treatment.”

He said the appropriate starting point for sentencing was 15 years and the only mitigating factor he found was the accused’s guilty plea.

Judge McCarthy reduced the sentence to 12 years for rape and gave him concurrent 12 and six year sentences for the other charges.

Conditions of his post-release supervision are that abides by all terms set down by the Probation Service, resides at an approved address and submits to any approved medical treatment.

At an earlier hearing, Garda Lisa Lawler told prosecuting counsel Shane Costelloe that Ms Meehan was volunteering at the ArcadeCon gaming convention in the hotel on the day in question.

She was preparing a presentation in a meeting room when Hearne entered the room and sat at the back. She became uneasy and moved to leave, but Hearne locked the door and threw her to the ground.

The attack stopped only when another conference worker entered the room using a hotel key card. Gardai were called and Hearne was arrested at the scene. He told gardai he had gone to the convention in the hopes of getting with another woman.

When that woman rejected him he said he had "anger flowing through him" and he then entered the meeting room and attacked his victim.

Ms Meehan described in evidence how she woke up every night crying for months after the attack, "thinking he had come back to finish the job".

"Before this, I wouldn't call myself an angry person, but now I punch walls, scream and walk out on conversations. I don't know what to do with this anger," she said.

The victim described how she has struggled with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, self-harming and suicidal thoughts since she was raped.

"People see me smiling and laughing. They don't see me curled up under a blanket on my sofa," she said.

"He may go to prison, but I'm already there because of what he did."

Mr Bowman said his client engaged in "absolute opportunism and exploitation" of his victim and there was "no excuse" for what he did.

It was an "unspeakable intrusion and violation of her person", he added.

Outside the court Dominique said it was important that victims of rape come forward and report their attackers.

“This is what I wanted, this is what the (gaming) convention community needed, to prove that this man was as evil as he is.

“The reason I’m waving my anonymity isn't for popularity, it's for people to know that coming forward to say you were raped is a good thing and you can do it. There is no doubt it’s tough but the more people who do report their rapes the more people will be able to see you can't rape, it doesn't work,” she said.

“While 12 years is a bit of a light sentence in my opinion he has got a sentence, and I can show people he got what he deserves’ and what I deserve,” Dominique added.

She also said it was important to identify Hearne because she felt if she hadn't then he could have been free to go back to any convention “as if he'd been on holiday”.

“He could attack someone else, and like the judge said, he is a high risk,” she said.

“My whole life has been impacted. There is no ifs, buts and ands about it, nothing in my life is the same anymore. I have to treat every day like someone is going to rape me. I am constantly on alert, I can't help but be,” she said after careful thought.

“Even though today I knew he was in custody I had to keep an eye out for him. Logically, he couldn't get to me but that's how I have to treat every day now,” said Dominique.

She said she hoped the 12 year sentence given to Hearne would help her own recovery, but that in the end she was still raped, and still has to deal with it.

“The fact that he's gone makes me feel very safe ,” said Dominique.

She said that she felt everything that the justice system could do for her was done.

“I can't say enough about the Gardai, they did so much for me, especially my garda liaison and the investigating garda in Blanchardstown, they were amazing.

Dominique said it could be a long time before she goes to another gaming convention, and that at the moment it's not feasible.

She said that while 12 years does not feel like a light enough sentence, it is long enough for her to feel safe.

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