Sunday 20 October 2019

Young man with autism blinded in one eye after 'vicious attack' by friend, court hears

Attacker set to be sentenced on Friday
Attacker set to be sentenced on Friday

Jessica Magee

A young man with autism was left blind in one eye after he was viciously assaulted by his teenager friend in front of scores of mutual friends, a court has heard.

The attack in Dublin's St Stephen's Green two years ago was videoed by several witnesses on their phones, footage of which was used by gardaí in their investigation.

The perpetrator, who is 17 but was aged 15 at the time, pleaded guilty to assault causing serious harm to the victim on August 13, 2016.

He is due to be sentenced tomorrow at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. He cannot be named as he is a minor.

Judge Martin Nolan said it was a “vicious assault” and a tragedy for the now 20-year-old victim in the case, whom he said was totally innocent and had done nothing to deserve this.

Judge Nolan said the loss of an eye would obviously be “a very huge handicap” for him and would probably affect his confidence and his ability to get certain positions.

“And when you lose one eye, there is always the worry that you could lose the other one,” added the judge.

He said the young victim had his own problems and was on the autism spectrum but had been dealing with this and getting on fine. He said the loss of sight would present a major challenge for him.

Garda Sonya Skelly told Dara Hayes BL, prosecuting, that both youths knew each other as they were part of a large group of friends who used to congregate in the city centre.

The injured party told gardaí that in June or July of 2016, the defendant started harassing him on Facebook and making comments about his autism.

He said that when his friend refused to stop bullying him, he blocked him on Facebook, but that the accused then began texting him and making derogatory comments.

The victim said he wanted to talk to the accused to sort it out and they met on the day in question in the rock garden of St Stephen's Green.

The court heard that between 30 to 40 of their friends were also present when the accused pushed the victim hard on the shoulders and then took off his jacket as if preparing for a fight.

The teenager then got the victim in a headlock and punched him about four times into the right eye.

The victim went unconscious and collapsed “like a sack of potatoes”, according to one witness, whereupon the perpetrator kicked him again in the head.

He was brought by ambulance to the Eye and Ear Hospital on Adelaide Road where a scan showed his optic nerve was damaged.

The victim spent five days in hospital and two medical reports confirmed a complete loss of vision in his right eye, with no chance of recovering that vision.

He was present in court and submitted a victim impact statement which was not read out but was handed to the judge. The perpetrator was identified by witnesses and met gardaí by appointment with his mother in September 2016.

He told gardaí he hadn't realised the “slagging” was being taken seriously and said he wanted to apologise not only for the damage that he did for also for the slagging. He has no previous convictions.

Pieter Le Vert BL, defending, said the perpetrator had been working full-time in a Youthreach programme where he had a mentoring role, and hoped to do a post-Leaving Cert course in coding.

A letter from Youthreach said the perpetrator was very intelligent and ambitious and had expressed an interest in working as a teacher. A probation report placed him at low risk of re-offending and said he had great insight and remorse into his wrongdoing.

“If he could take it all back, including the slagging, he would. He never meant for one second for the injured party to suffer the devastation that he has,” said Mr Le Vert.

Judge Nolan said that if someone was punched three or four times to the eye, there was always the possibility of severe damage and that in fact it would be unusual if someone was punched in the eye and did not sustain an injury like this.

The judge said the mitigating factors for the perpetrator were clear in that he had pleaded early, had cooperated fully and was a very good student with a promising future and a stable family.

“He was a child at the time. What can be forgivable in a child would be totally unforgivable in an adult,” said Judge Nolan.

“The law recognises as common sense that children can be compulsive, can commit errors of judgement, can make mistakes and lose control, and so sentencing is completely different.”

“The Children's Act concentrates on the reform of the child rather than on punishment, and tells me that I should only consider a custodial sentence as a last resort,” he added.

Mr Hayes said the Director of Public Prosecutions considered the assault to fall within the mid-range of offending and recommended a headline sentence of between four to seven and a half years.

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