Wednesday 18 October 2017

Family says teen should be sent to jail for killing father

Natasha Reid

THE sister of a man killed by his own son yesterday blasted a judge for not imposing a jail sentence on the teenager.

Slain Thomas Brendan Cunningham's siblings described the suspended sentence as an all-clear for children to kill their alcoholic parents.

Thomas Cunningham (19) was convicted by a jury earlier this year of the manslaughter of Mr Cunningham Snr (46) at their home in Santa Maria Commons, Ballinlough, Co Roscommon, on August 23, 2007.

He had pleaded not guilty to murdering him in their driveway after his father came home in the early hours drunk.

Yesterday, he walked free from the Central Criminal Court, after being given a suspended six-year sentence.

Afterwards, Cunningham Jnr hugged his mother and signed a €100 bond to be of good behaviour for six years. It is understood he will return to Lincoln, England, where he has been living in a hostel.

But two of Mr Cunningham Snr's brothers walked out of court as Mr Justice Paul Butler's read out the sentence.

"That judge is giving dispensation to any child with an alcoholic parent to kill him," said Mr Cunningham Snr's sister, Maria Cunningham.

She and her brothers said they were "outraged and appalled" by the decision, describing the sentence as derisory. "Life is as sacred as it is precious," they said. "It is enshrined and protected in law."

They said they believed their brother had been failed by the Irish judicial system.

Exceptional

Mr Justice Butler stressed that only in extraordinarily exceptional circumstances could there be no custody for an unlawful killing. But he said: "I think this is a totally exceptional case."

He pointed out that the accused had just turned 18 at the time and had no previous convictions or propensity for violence. He said there was no evidence the teenager presented any risk to others. He had honoured bail and returned to Ireland for trial and sentencing.

A 'For Sale' sign stood in the grounds of the house last night and it is understood that most of the Cunninghams have moved to the UK.

The family was raised in England by their Roscommon father and Kerry mother, who retired to Ballinlough 15 years earlier. The deceased was the eldest of the family and moved to the village some years later to care for his parents. His teenage son followed about a year before the killing and the court heard they had a troublesome relationship.

"Brendan was beaten to death while defenceless and unable to protect himself," said his family in their victim impact statement, referring to the punches and kicks the teenager gave his father.

"Brendan was left to die alone. The only person who attempted helping Brendan was our late father, a frail 75-year-old with multiple health problems."

The court heard that the elderly man fell and broke his hip two days after his son's killing and was hospitalised, spending time away from his wife for the first time in their marriage. He died four months later.

"The person responsible for the savage beating refused all requests to help and callously went to bed," the family said.

State pathologist Marie Cassidy had told the trial that death would have taken place some hours after the assault.

The Cunningham family said their mother is still heartbroken at the thought of her son lying outside that night and dying alone. They said she was also tormented that he never got his Last Rites, as a priest was not called until after he died. The family said they were prevented from resting their brother in a church the night before his burial, because the defence needed to examine his body.

They were advised against an open casket due to the severity of his injuries and feel they never had a chance to say a proper goodbye.

"My parents did not expect to outlive their children," Ms Cunningham added. "They suffered mental anguish as to why they were still alive. They told us they would have willingly died in Brendan's place."

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