Sunday 20 October 2019

Community service for man who left schoolmate deaf in one ear after he punched him in jealous rage

(Stock image)
(Stock image)

Sonya McLean and Jessica Magee

An apprentice electrician who left a schoolmate permanently deaf in one ear after he punched him in a fit of jealousy has walked free from court with a non-custodial sentence.

Adam Clarke (20) was ordered to carry out 240 hours of community service in lieu of three years' imprisonment and was further directed to pay €10,000 to the injured party as a token of his remorse.

Clarke, of Ardara Avenue, Donaghmede, Dublin pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to causing serious harm to Ownie O'Connell at the Tivoli Theatre, Francis Street, Dublin 8, on July 3, 2016. He has no previous convictions.

The court heard that Clarke was out celebrating his 18th birthday party in the nightclub when he saw Mr O'Connell kissing a girl who was known to both of them. Witnesses then saw him punch Mr O'Connell in the face, knocking him to the ground, before he hit a second punch.

Garda Mark Costello told Ronan Kennedy BL, prosecuting, that one of Mr O'Connell's friends immediately went to his assistance when he saw he had been knocked unconscious after his head hit the ground. He was bleeding from his mouth.

A second teenager ran to pull Clarke away before security guards moved in.

Mr O'Connell was conscious by the time he arrived at St. James's Hospital but he had a cut to his scalp, was vomiting and complaining of dizziness. He was kept in hospital for five days and is now permanently deaf in his left ear.

Judge Melanie Greally set a headline sentence of seven years but gave Clarke credit for his early plea, his youth, his lack of previous or subsequent offences, the high level of alcohol he had consumed on the night and the emotionally charged atmosphere in which the offence had taken place.

A probation report put Clarke at low risk of re-offending, the court heard.

Judge Greally condemned what she described as a “most regrettable incidence of violence at the end of a night's drinking” and said that Mr O'Connell had been at risk of death for a time due to the severity of his head injury, which was a complex fracture with swelling of the brain.

The judge said Mr O'Connell's physical and emotional health had been severely affected, and that the lasting consequence was total and permanent hearing loss in one ear.

She said Mr O'Connell's academic achievement and sporting life had suffered and the career path he had aspired to had to be altered.

Judge Greally expressed her sympathy to members of Mr O'Connell's family who were present in court and asked them to convey her best wishes to him.

Gda Costello said Clarke showed no remorse during interview with gardaí and was smiling throughout his questioning. He told gardaí he had no regrets because “it was a great night”.

He said he didn't know what had happened but said “I think I hit him.” He admitted he saw Mr O'Connell kissing the girl, he wasn't happy about it and he was angry. When asked if he would like to apologise for putting his friend in hospital, he replied “no.”

Gda Costello told Mr Kennedy that he later became aware that Clarke visited the victim in hospital during which he accepted that he had hit him with his fist from behind in “an unprovoked assault”.

He said he was really sorry, that he had not meant to do it but he was “jealous” that Mr O'Connell had been with the girl. Gda Costello confirmed that there had been no animosity between Mr O'Connell and Clarke before the assault.

In a victim impact report read out by Mr Kennedy, Mr O'Connell said he was permanently deaf in his left ear and suffered tinnitus. He said he would need medical attention for the rest of his life. His impairment makes it hard to pay attention to what people are saying when there is background noise.

Mr O'Connell said his final year in school was to be the year “he set the world alight” and achieved top grades but he found that he often didn't get up to go to school. He felt left out and lonely.

He said he would see Clarke sitting in the same class as if nothing had happened. He didn't get enough points in his Leaving Certificate to do the course he wanted in college. He couldn't play football anymore because he would fall over if he tried to kick a ball.

Mr O'Connell said he felt like the “old me was the real me”, he felt like he was “away from normal life”. He said his deafness was a severe impairment that affected both his work and social life.

Dominic McGinn SC, defending, said his client had €10,000 available as “a concrete indication of his genuine remorse,” which the judge ordered to be immediately transferred to Mr O'Connell. Mr McGinn also confirmed that there is a civil action before the courts at the moment.

Mr McGinn told Judge Greally that his client's position had changed since his arrest and handed in number of testimonials and a psychologist's report which he said “demonstrates remorse”.

His employer described the assault as out-of-character for Clarke and the co-ordinator of a charity that Clarke has done work for described him as “a placid young man who was never in trouble”. Both testimonials said he was “truly remorseful”.

Mr McGinn asked that Clarke “not be condemned for his initial attitude” and the answers he gave during garda interview. He described it as “an isolated act of violence”.

“This is not his character. That is not the story of his life,” submitted counsel.

Mr McGinn asked if his client should have to suffer unreasonably because of that “momentary lapse in his otherwise law-abiding life”. He said Clarke was “an upstanding young man” and spending time in custody would “undermine all that”.

A number of letters speaking to Clarke's good character were handed in to court, including one from his employer.

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