A Dublin man whose gun jammed when he tried to shoot his ex-girlfriend has been sentenced to eight years in prison for her attempted murder.
Justice Michael White said Gerard Mooney (39), of no fixed abode, had come "within a hair's breadth" of facing the most serious charge in Irish law and that but for good fortune his victim would not have survived.
Mooney, a father of three who previously lived in Castlerea, Co Roscommon pleaded guilty last year to the attempted murder of Stephanie Clifton (28) on 12 February 2017 at Cartron, Co Roscommon.
He also admitted to the possession of a shotgun, making a threat to kill or cause serious harm to Ms Clifton and criminal damage on the same occasion.
He further pleaded guilty to harassing Ms Clifton by persistently following, watching, pestering, besetting or communicating with her between 7 and 12 February 2017. The court heard that he made more than 250 calls to her phone between those dates.
He also pleaded guilty to committing burglary at the home of Stephen O'Donoghue in Cartron by entering as a trespasser and committing assault causing harm to Stephanie Clifton.
Justice White said the evidence showed that Mooney had been in a "turbulent" relationship with Ms Clifton and could not accept it when they broke up.
Psychological problems and abuse of drink and drugs were factors in his offending behaviour, the judge added.
He said there were a number of aggravating factors including that he had been ordered by a court not to contact Ms Clifton when he tried to murder her.
Justice White noted that relationships are often "the most dangerous place for victims" and said this was a "startling example" of the reality where love becomes distorted to something very different.
In mitigation the judge noted that Mooney had mental health problems and issues with alcohol and drug abuse.
He shows genuine remorse, the judge said, and while in custody has attended courses in anger management, alternatives to violence, peer mediation, conflict awareness and harm reduction. He has also achieved a certificate of basic literacy.
On the attempted murder charge Justice White imposed a 12-year sentence but suspended the last four.
He sentenced him to five years for burglary, eight years for possession of a firearm, three years for criminal damage, five years for threatening to kill and two years for harassment. All sentences will run concurrently and were backdated to February 15, 2017 when he first went into custody.
Justice White further ordered that for 15 years from the date of his release Mooney must not contact Ms Clifton in any way directly or indirectly. Mr Mooney entered a bond and accepted the terms.
During a sentence hearing last December Garda Fergal Reynolds of Boyle Garda Station said Ms Clifton, a Birmingham-born woman, had met the accused three or four years ago when they were both living in Co Roscommon.
He told Philipp Rahn BL, prosecuting, that they began a turbulent relationship, which had broken down by 7 February, 2017. On that evening she was at home in Meadow Crest, Boyle with her young daughter, who was asleep.
The accused arrived around 8.30pm and began banging on her windows and demanding entry.
She had moved on with someone else and refused to let him in, but she spoke to him through a window. “He would have been at her house for a couple of hours trying to talk to her,” explained Gda Reynolds.
He said that he had become quite agitated when he realised that he wasn’t getting in. His victim told him that she had to go to attend to food that was cooking and left the window. She then heard glass breaking, looked out and saw the accused standing with a crowbar, having smashed her car windows.
It was almost midnight when she called the gardai. The officers attended and later came across the accused leaving the estate. He took off running, but was found hiding inside a hedge, two feet off the ground.
He was released from custody the following morning on strict bail conditions, including that he would not have any contact with the victim and stay out of Boyle. He phoned her and threatened to kill her that very morning.
“See you, rat face. You’re dead,” he said, while also threatening to burn her house down. He proceeded to make another 273 calls to her on 11 and 12 February.
She went to stay with her cousin, Mr O’Donoghue, in Cartron that weekend. She woke up at 7.30am on Sunday 12 to find the accused standing over her. He pulled her out of bed and assaulted her.
The accused had brought another man with him, and they left together after the assault. Ms Clifton dialled 999 and gardai were dispatched.
“We were en-route to the initial call to the assault when we got a further call to say he’d returned to the house and a shot had been discharged,” recalled Gda Reynolds.
The door had been unlocked on his first arrival, but Mooney found it locked this time. He fired a shot through the glass part of the door, and gained entry that way. Wearing blue surgical gloves, he walked to the bedroom with a sawn-off shotgun in his hand.
He brought Ms Clifton to the kitchen and pointed the gun at her head. He pulled the trigger a number of times but it didn’t fire. So he opened it and tried to unload and load it before pulling the trigger another few times. It still didn’t work so he tried the same procedure again.
“He just seemed to be getting really pissed off when the gun didn’t go off,” said Mr O’Donoghue in a statement.
“The gun was inches away from her face. She was shouting: ‘Ger don’t do it. Please don’t do it’.”
Before he left, Mooney shouted that he would kill her if she rang the gardai. He also referred to killing her father and Mr O’Donoghue.
Gardai were there by the time the accused made his next threats to his victim, this time in a phone call. He was tracked down that evening, hiding in a wardrobe in a friend’s house in Castlerea. He was arrested and interviewed, but denied everything.
Gda Reynolds read out Ms Clifton’s victim impact statement, in which she said that her mental health had suffered as a result of the incident with the gun.
“I have constant flashbacks of the gun being pointed at my head and him reloading,” she wrote.
She said she had since been diagnosed with PTSD, was on medication and had felt suicidal. She had also been left with a fractured rib.
“I constantly suffer from anxiety and jump at loud bangs,” she continued. “I feel weakened as a person but have to stay strong for my daughter.”
She said she felt like prisoner in her own home and constantly though he would turn up. She also had to leave work as a result.
“I think that someone must have been looking over me that day, as the bullets kept jamming, despite him reloading,” she said.
She said that her daughter had also been affected and that her worst fear was now ‘that my Mummy would be killed’.