AN internet and call-shop owner has been sentenced to life in prison for murdering a customer. Zhen Dong Zhao kicked the man to death after he had refused to pay in full for a 70 cent phone call.
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.
Noel Fegan was originally from Finglas, but the reformed drug addict had been living in Aughrim Street. 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 that she spoke to her father for a minute and a half. However, Mr Fegan told Zhao he did not get through.
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 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.
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 reached a guilty verdict by a majority of 10 to 2 at the Central Criminal Court. The defence had argued for a verdict of manslaughter as a result of provocation.
Zhao had told detectives that he had 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 anger had built up after similar and worse episodes and caused him to lose control. One customer had refused to pay a €30 phone bill.
Zhao said: "When these people are around, other people are afraid to come in," explaining that he was referring to drinkers and drug addicts. 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 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 and that she was proud of how he had turned his life around after drugs.
His sister, Catherine Doyle, said Mr Fegan was a much loved son, brother and father, who was devoted to his children.
The defendant's wife of two-and-a-half months then entered the witness box. Zhu Bai cried as she agreed that her husband truly regretted what had happened. She also said she would wait for him until he was freed.
Zhao then stood while Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy imposed the mandatory life sentence on him, backdating it by two months for the time already spent in custody.
Afterwards, Mr Fegan's brother, John Fegan issued a statement thanking the jury and the gardai.