Sunday 17 November 2019

Teenage boy who tried to murder woman sentenced to 11 years

Scene of attack: The seafront at Queen’s Road, Dún Laoghaire
Scene of attack: The seafront at Queen’s Road, Dún Laoghaire
Andrew Phelan

Andrew Phelan

A teenage boy who tried to murder a woman by slitting her throat after they met on a social media app has been sentenced to 11 years in custody.

The boy, who was 15 years old at the time of the horrifying attack, brought the 25-year-old woman to the seafront in south Dublin and asked to take a selfie, then put her in a strangle hold and knifed her, cutting into her windpipe.

Mr Justice Michael White backdated the sentence to December 2017 and said it will be reviewed in 2023, after five years have been served.

He said the boy, who had been suffering from a serious mental illness, carried out the planned, pre-meditated attack with "cold calculation" and without empathy.

The accused, now aged 17, sat in the dock between his parents and stared at the judge, but showed no emotion when the sentence was handed down. His mother and father both hugged him before he was led away.

He will remain at Oberstown detention centre until six months after his 18th birthday, when he will be transferred to an adult prison.

The victim, Stephanie Ng sat at the back of court, supported by family members as the boy was sentenced.

He pleaded guilty to attempting to murder Ms Ng at Queen’s Road, Dun Laoghaire on 23 December, 2017.

Today, Judge White said it was a crime of the "utmost seriousness" and the aggravating circumstances were self-evident, in its nature and impact on the victim.

He said the accused had contacted her on social media "for the purpose of causing harm."

"There was planning, there was pre-meditation", he said, and a "determined strategy on meeting Ms Ng", who he enticed to an isolated location.

There was "cold calculation without empathy in the carrying out of the violent act", he said.

It was likely that the two wounds to Ms Ng's neck and and thumb were inflicted while she was already unconscious from strangulation.

She was "left for dead" without any attempt by the accused to get assistance.

It was clear that Ms Ng was a "gentle person" of slight stature and the attack had affected her physically and emotionally - she suffered flashbacks and struggled to trust people. The effects were "life changing" and would be with her for the rest of her life, he said.

In mitigation, the accused had pleaded guilty early and was of previous good character. He was from a very loving and dedicated family who had been "exemplary in their care for him," he said.

There was no doubt the accused felt remorse for his actions and his behaviour in custody had been exemplary. It was the court's view that the boy's youth and mental illness were "inextricably bound up."

There was no doubt he had been suffering from a serious mental illness in the period leading up to the crime, though it fell short of the legal definition of insanity, the judge said.

His parents had sought urgent medical intervention and he had been treated with substantial medication, the judge continued.

However, the court had been "hampered" in properly exploring these issues because consent to furnish the boys treating psychiatrist's notes had been withheld.

The court had then ordered a psychiatric report and this was provided by forensic psychiatrist Dr Richard Church.

His prognosis had been "uncertain" but he had serious concerns for the boy's future and prospects of re-offending. The judge accepted it was the genuine view of the accused's mother that the boy's medication at the time was "not helping him," though there was no expert evidence in support of this.

The headline sentence was life imprisonment, with a range of 16 to 19 years, and this offence was at the upper end of the scale, he said.

It was not open to the court to suspend any part of the sentence.

He sentenced the accused to 11 years, from the date he went into custody on December 26 2017, with a review to take place in January 2023.

The boy, dressed in a navy blue jumper, white shirt and light blue jeans, was first embraced by his mother, then his father when the hearing ended.

Previously, the court had heard the boy and victim made contact through the Whisper app, the boy pretending he was aged 19. Ms Ng made it clear that she was not interested in a sexual relationship and they arranged to meet.

He said he would bring her to a "secret spot" and she jokingly said it sounded like "he was going to murder her."

After she declined when he suggested they go to derelict houses, they walked to the seafront promenade, where she also refused to go into the disused baths.

At his suggestion, they went to a path near the water’s edge to take a selfie.

Ms Ng was facing out to sea when the accused put her in a neck lock and choked her with one hand, while brandishing a knife in the other.

The victim tried to grab the knife, suffering lacerations while he calmly told her to stop screaming.

Ms Ng passed out and came around in a pool of blood near the water’s edge. She collapsed on a footpath and and passers-by came to help, one of whom thought she was going to die.

Among her injuries, Ms Ng’s neck was slashed from one side to the other, the wound cutting through the trachea 75pc. She also had stab injuries on her arm and hand.

She showed gardai her app messages and the accused was arrested at his home on Christmas Day.

He told gardai: "Is this about the stabbing of that girl? I haven’t got the knife, I threw it in the ocean."

Gardai seized a book of drawings that included a sketch showing someone being cut up with a knife. The words "serial killer" were on another page.

Ms Ng wept as she recalled taking "what I thought was going to be my last breath as he choked the life out of me".

She spoke of trying to understand how someone his age could have "such evil intentions."

"The scars you inflicted on my neck and hand will forever be a reminder of your demonic actions," she told the accused in her victim impact statement.

She said her life had been "destroyed" and she would struggle to ever forgive the boy.

Psychiatric and psychological reports had been ordered ahead of sentencing and evidence was heard over two days.

Dr Church said the accused had had unsupervised access to extreme pornography from a young age, unknown contact with the dark web, and posed an ongoing risk to others that had "the potential to be life-changing or fatal."

The boy had attended a prestigious secondary school but had made no friends and later moved to another school. His parents said he was bullied by exclusion and was depressed.

He spent hours playing video games, including military simulation games, though parents had tried to impose limits.

The boy said in interview that he had watched pornography on the internet since the age of 11 or 12, the type included "force but not violent, never blood or choking."

He said his violent thoughts had first started around 2015, including persistent, intrusive thoughts of hitting people and hurting them.  He went on antidepressants.

His only prior physical confrontation was a scuffle with another boy, but he had made plans to capture and kill a squirrel.

When he met Ms Ng, he "had a voice in my head saying: ‘You have to do this’, so I attacked," he said.

He was thinking "That I had to attack someone as these thoughts won’t stop," he said, adding that it didn’t matter if it was her or not.

"I got out the knife. I choked her and cut into her neck," he admitted.

She said she would do anything for him, but he told her to be quiet and 'used a sawing action to cut her neck'.

He said that he was shaking afterwards, but didn’t really feel anything. He was surprised she had survived, and happy "because it meant I wasn't a murderer."

The boy said he now regretted his actions and said what he had done was "cruel, demonic and evil".

The boy’s parents told Dr Church when the attack happened it was the first time he had been let out on his own in months and they thought he was better.

The boy’s mother told the court she had felt something terrible was going to happen due to her son’s mental state.

She and her husband had slept with him in the living room to monitor him. The boy’s mother apologised to Ms Ng and said her son "takes full responsibility" for his actions.

"We are in awe of your incredible strength, courage, grace and dignity," she said of Ms Ng. "We would do anything for this never to have happened."

She said her son started to become "unwell" when he was 13, suffered depression and began to hear voices in his head telling him to hurt himself or others.

A doctor informed her that the boy needed urgent in-patient psychiatric care but no place was available.

He was prescribed increasing doses of anti-depressants which raised his mood and created a "perfect storm," his mother believed.

She believed the high doses of Prozac he was taking may explain his actions.

He was put on anti-psychotics when taken into custody following his arrest and this instantly caused the voices he was hearing to stop, she said.

However, Dr Church had said it was not clear if anti-depressants had any influence on the accused's offending behaviour.

A psychologist’s report stated the boy demonstrated traits of egocentricity, had fantasies of power, control and dominance and had shown a failure to fully accept responsibility for his actions.

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