A man who killed his partner’s ex-husband, who died from a knife wound to a varicose vein after a row on Christmas Eve, was jailed for two-and-a-half years today.
John Lawlor (48) bled to death after David Shanley (47) called to his house at Ballintray Lower, Courtown Harbour, Gorey, Co Wexford on Christmas Eve 2014.
A previous hearing was told a knife had pierced Mr Lawlor’s varicose vein below the knee.
Earlier this month, Shanley, of Courtown Harbour, Gorey, Co Wexford, denied murder but admitted to Mr Lawlor’s manslaughter on December 24 or 25, 2014. The State had accepted his plea
Sentencing Shanley to five years’ imprisonment, with two-and-half years suspended, Mr Justice Paul Butler told the Central Criminal Court that the conviction of manslaughter could carry a life sentence.
He said the victim, who was a father of three, had been a “much loved son, brother, father and grandfather”.
However, the judge said that this offence was on the ‘lower scale’ for sentencing.
He added that, by his plea, the accused had eventually “accepted responsibility for his actions” even though Shanley had originally tried to “deflect any responsibility” by telling gardai that the struggle with Mr Lawlor had been a “fight for survival”.
Noting the unusual nature of the wound, “which was just below the knee”, the judge accepted that the accused - who has been in custody since October 10 this year - could not have predicted that his actions would have had “fatal consequences”.
As Shanley was been led away to begin his sentence, a male relative of the deceased sitting in the public gallery told the judge that the conviction “should have been murder, not manslaughter”.
Another relative - who said she was the dead man’s sister - was then led away from the court by gardai after she confronted relatives of the accused, telling them that Shanley had “got away with murder”.
Detective Inspector Murt Whelan testified at a previous hearing that the victim’s brother, Tony Lawlor, dialled 999 shortly before midnight that Christmas Eve to say his brother had been stabbed at his home.
Gardai found Shanley lying on the ground outside Mr Lawlor’s front door and the deceased slumped on the couch inside. He had a stab wound below his right knee and wasn’t breathing.
A post-mortem exam found that he died of hemorrhage and shock due to an incise wound to a varicose vein of his leg. It was a shallow wound, but was to the major vein of the lower leg, which was varicose and close to the surface.
Had it not been a varicose vein, the wound would not have been so serious, said State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy in her report.
She said that the site of the wound was unusual and could have been caused during a struggle. She added that there was bruising of Mr Lawlor’s right hand, indicative of an offensive injury.
The inspector explained that Shanley was in a relationship with Mr Lawlor’s ex-wife, Melissa Lawlor, and that he had been drinking with her on Christmas Eve. She contacted her ex-husband to organise the logistics of gathering presents and a dispute arose as to Mr Lawlor’s availability.
Shanley sent a number of text messages to the deceased that afternoon, one of which read: “Me and Mel are getting engaged. Hope you have a nice Christmas.” Mr Lawlor didn’t reply to any of his messages or answer any of the calls he made to him.
The accused told gardai that he had decided to go and have a word with Mr Lawlor to sort things out. He said that Mr Lawlor had answered the door and attacked him, knocking him unconscious. He asserted that his victim must have committed suicide as he hadn’t touched him and informed them of his previous suicide attempts.
He denied being in a temper when he called to the house. It was put to him that a knife missing from his own set had been used in the killing. He suggested that Mr Lawlor might have had the same set.
“We obviously had a struggle and there was obviously a knife because I have defensive wounds,” he said.
He denied that the text message about his engagement was sent to wind up the deceased.
He later told gardai in a voluntary statement that he had decided to call to Mr Lawlor that night to have a ‘mature, adult conversation’ with him. He said he put a knife in his pocket for his own protection and hadn’t intended to harm him.
He said that the knife fell out of his pocket when Mr Lawlor began punching him at his front door, that the deceased tried to stab him, but he knocked it out of his hand with his right hand.
The inspector confirmed that he had a wound to his hand during interview.
Shanley said he threw the knife away and that Mr Lawlor had then knocked him unconscious. He said the paramedics were there and Mr Lawlor was dead when he came around.
Inspector Whelan confirmed to Patrick Gageby SC, defending Shanley, that his client was still in a relationship with and cares for Mrs Lawlor, who attends hospital regularly for dialysis. He had pleaded guilty to manslaughter in June and had been on bail.
He agreed that both men were from respectable and decent families.
VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENTS
Mr Lawlor’s two sisters and two of his daughters delivered separate victim impact statements to the court. His third daughter is still a child.
Arlene Lawlor said her father was a man like no other, and had loved her unconditionally.
“He was my light in my darkest hour,” she said, adding that he has a fantastic dad and grandad.
She said that seeing the accused on a regular basis was intimidating, cruel and very difficult.
She said she was diagnosed with post traumatic stress and put on medication. Her father would usually be there for her in such circumstances.
“(But) I don’t hear his voice as I scream with all my might: ‘Dad, I need you’,” she said.
Casey Lawlor broke down in the witness box as she described nightmares she has, in which she sees her father’s face as he lies in the coffin.
“He’ll never see me marry or walk me up the aisle or see his latest grandchild,” she said.
Maureen Geoghegan said the family had been unable to tell their mother, who was in her 80s, that her son was dead for some time. They eventually told her about his death, but she died without knowing the cause.
She said that Shanley had shown no remorse and had continued to live his life as normal. She said that her life was far from normal and that, sadly, the heartache was forever.
Helen Kenny said the family would never celebrate Christmas again without reliving the horror of that night.
She said it was too early to lose a precious brother, father, son and grandad.
“We love and miss you, John, and will never forget you,” she concluded.