Sunday 16 June 2019

Man jailed for five years for manslaughter of talented young musician in unprovoked attack

Damien O’Brien was an up and coming musician
Damien O’Brien was an up and coming musician

Ralph Riegel

A YOUNG man was jailed for five years for the manslaughter of a talented musician in an unprovoked street attack in Waterford last summer, as a judge noted he was already on bail for a serious assault at the time.

Craig McGrath (26) was jailed as Waterford Circuit Criminal Court saw footage of the unprovoked attack from CCTV cameras in Waterford city centre - with McGrath shadow-boxing with a friend as he ran from the scene in the seconds after the fatal assault.

McGrath wept at the CCTV footage was shown in court - and sobbed as Damien O'Brien's sister, Sandra, said her brother was "a gentle soul" who did not deserve the vicious attack he was subjected to as he walked home.

Mr O'Brien (27), a talented Kilmacow musician with the up-and-coming band Chimpanbee, was punched at least two times by McGrath after he objected to a derogatory comment McGrath had passed about his girlfriend, Catherine Smith.

Ms Smith, in her statement, said she was shocked by the unprovoked assault at 2.30am on July 7 2018 at the junction of John Street and Manor Street in Waterford city centre - with Mr O'Brien unconscious before his head his the pavement.

The couple were on their way home from a gig just played by Mr O'Brien when they came across the defendant and his friend at the junction.

Judge Eugene O'Kelly was told the musician suffered a broken nose, jaw and eye socket from the punches thrown by McGrath.

He warned that such violence on Irish streets cannot be tolerated.

Judge O'Kelly imposed a five year sentence for the unlawful killing - which must be served after McGrath completes a six month term for assault causing harm, the 2017 offence on which he was on bail for at the time.

Ms Smith said Mr O'Brien was punched "very aggressively" at least two times in the face by the defendant - and she was appalled by "the thud" as the head of her unconscious boyfriend hit the pavement as he fell.

Mr O'Brien was initially treated at University Hospital Waterford (UHW) where his condition was critical.

He was then transferred to the special head trauma unit at Cork University Hospital (CUH) where he underwent two separate emergency procedures.

Tragically, the young musician died on July 13 after several days on a life support machine.

A Cork coroner's inquest heard that he died from a brain stem haemorrhage and traumatic brain injury consistent with him having suffered blunt force trauma to the head.

Mr O'Brien's sister, Sandra, said watching her brother struggle for breath after his life support machine was turned off left her family absolutely devastated and heartbroken.

"Most people wake up from a nightmare," she said.

"We wake up to a nightmare every single day. Our lives are destroyed and our hearts are broken beyond repair."

She revealed that Damien had heroically performed cardiac pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on his little niece, Cora (14), just six months before his death after she had suffered a cardiac arrest.

Tragically, the little girl subsequently died.

"The last thing he (Damien) said to me before he was taken from us was: 'I will help you get through this year.' Those were the last words my brother spoke to me."

"Damien's passion was his music and his family. He loved to see people enjoying themselves with his music. There was no room in his heart for hatred or aggression."

"He was such a gentle soul. He lit up the lives of all around him."

She said the sight of her brother's broken body struggling for life in CUH would haunt her and her family forever.

"But he was too ill, too damaged to make it through," she sobbed.

The young woman urged Judge O'Kelly to consider a strict sentence to ensure such unprovoked aggression would not be tolerated on Irish streets.

McGrath of Rathfadden Park, Waterford pleaded guilty to the unlawful killing of Mr O'Brien.

The defendant - who appeared in court wearing blue slacks and a blue shirt - wept throughout parts of the proceedings.

Defence counsel, Mary Rose Geraghty SC, said her client fully accepted a custodial sentence.

"He has caused the death of this lovely and charming young man (Damien O'Brien). He does realise what he has done," she said.

The court was told McGrath had written a special letter of apology for the O'Brien family.

Judge O'Kelly was told by Detective Garda Seamas Halpin that McGrath has a total of 24 previous convictions, the majority for Road Traffic Attack offences.

At the time of the fatal assault on Mr O'Brien, McGrath was on bail charged with assault causing harm to a young man in Waterford on August 18 2017.

In that case, McGrath head butted a young man in nightclub - and then knocked him unconscious with a single blow immediately outside the club.

When CCTV footage of the two violent incidents were played to the court, there was an audible gasp from the public gallery.

Judge O'Kelly said that, because the manslaughter offence occurred while McGrath was on bail, the sentence imposed would be consecutive to the assault causing harm sentence.

McGrath pleaded guilty to the assault causing harm charge contrary to Section 3 of the Non Fatal Offences Against the Persons Act.

The young man who was a victim of that assault did not offer a victim impact statement.

In a moving tribute last year, Mr O'Brien's band mates in Chimpanbee hailed him as "our brother, friend and prodigal son behind the keys."

"Thank you for the music, brother - rest in peace now."

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