Wednesday 24 January 2018

Emer O'Kelly: Prison reinforces the fact that a crime was committed

Might a jail term have been a more apt sentence in the Joel neglect case?

Emer O'Kelly

WORDS like "gruesome" and "medieval" to describe a crime which resulted in a woman's death do not sound inadequate in a judge's mouth in court. And Judge Sean O'Donnabhain used them at Wexford Criminal Court in a case while handing down a sentence of community service to the criminals who had been found guilty by a majority verdict of the jury. The sentence and the description do not seem to sit well together in the circumstances.

Evelyn Joel died in hospital in January 2006. She was 59 and had multiple sclerosis. Two weeks earlier she had been taken from her home, where she had been living with her 38-year-old daughter Eleanor and Eleanor's partner, 40-year-old Jonathan Costen. She had been found lying in her own excrement, neither she nor her bed having been cleaned for some time; she was malnourished due to not having been given food or water for days at a time, on more than one occasion.

When the gardai investigated the circumstances leading up to Evelyn Joel's death, her daughter and Costen were charged with her manslaughter. Their first trial collapsed because the jury could not come to a verdict. Last week's verdict was not unanimous, showing at the very least that this was a complex and fraught case. Perhaps in recognition of this as well as his hope of decreasing what he called the couple's sense of isolation, the judge chose community service over a two-year sentence. But he also commented in his judgment on the requirement of the justice system to provide a deterrent in such cases.

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