Thursday 19 April 2018

Man accused of single-punch attack which left student with brain damage is found not guilty

Ali Ameer Azeez pictured at Sligo Courthouse. Pic: Donal Hacket
Ali Ameer Azeez pictured at Sligo Courthouse. Pic: Donal Hacket

Greg Harkin

A BARBER shop owner facing serious assault charges following a single-punch attack which left a student with brain damage has been cleared by a jury this afternoon.

Ali Azeez, (23), from Ard Cairn in Sligo, had admitted throwing the punch which left student Stephen Finnegan, (25), requiring treatment for fractures to his skull, jaw and eye-socket as well as a brain injury.

However Mr Azeez’s lawyers had argued that he had thrown the punch in self-defence after Mr Finnegan had attempted to punch Mr Azeez in the early hours of September 23, 2014 in Castle Street, Sligo.

Mr Azeez faced a Section 4 assault causing serious harm charge which carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. He also faced a Section 3 assault causing harm charge which carried a maximum sentence of five years.

After a six day trial and deliberating for three-and-a-half hours today, the jury of nine women and three men returned a unanimous not guilty verdict on the more serious Section 4 charge.

After deliberating for a futher five minutes, they returned a majority not guilty verdict on the Section 3 charge.

John John Amyler told Mr Azeez he was free to go. The defendant hugged his girlfriend and shook the hand of his senior counsel Kerida Naidoo.

Iraqi-born Mr Azeez and his Hungarian student friend Adam Baolgh (25) had been walking home after a night out when they were accused by Mr Finnegan’s girlfriend Olga Reilly, (23), an ITSligo drama student from Abbeylara, Co Longford, of swearing at her.

The men denied saying anything to her and a row ensued.

Mr Balogh had told the jury that Ms Reilly had become agitated when he and Mr Azeez had refused to tell her where they were from.

CCTV footage appeared to show Mr Finnegan attempting to hit Mr Azeez twice during the incident.

It also showed Mr Azeez avoiding the second attempted punch and then striking Mr Finnegan. Mr Azeez had admitting his involvement in the incident on the day it had happened and had gone voluntarily to Sligo Garda Station.

The student collapsed to the ground and was later treated for “life-threatening and life-changing” injuries.

Referring to the CCTV footage, Mr Naidoo had told that jury that on the night of the incident Mr Azeez “didn’t have a pause button to work out what he was going to next” after Mr Finnegan attempted to punch the defendant.

He said Mr Finnegan had technically assaulted Mr Azeez on three occasions and Mr Azeez had walked away twice.

Mr Naidoo said in two minutes of CCTV footage “the critical period of time is just one second”.

He said until that point his client had in fact “done everything possible to avoid hurting Mr Finnegan”.

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