Child kidnapper's claims of neglect get little sympathy
Michael Martin, jailed for trying to snatch an 11-year-old girl last week, may not have 'appreciated' how terrible his crime was
In his mid-Leinster stomping ground, there were few eyebrows raised when Michael Martin received a 17-year prison sentence for attempting to drive off with an 11-year-old girl.
The crime he committed was "disturbing" and "an attack on family life", Judge Keenan Johnson told Portlaoise Circuit Court during his sentencing on Thursday.
Martin, a father of two, saw the children playing in Cullohill, Laois. He pulled up in a jeep he had stolen in Kilkenny and engaged the girl in conversation.
He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her into the car, feet first and deposited her on the passenger seat.
She was saved by the bravery of her 10-year-old brother, who clung to the window of a moving car and punched Martin repeatedly as he tried to speed away.
Her brother dangled from the car window, his feet off the ground, and then pursued the car on foot. He only returned home when he realised that his sister had escaped.
The judge, investigators and others commended the children's extraordinary heroics.
The boy had risked his life, hanging over the wheels of a moving car while we do not know what fate that Martin had in mind for his sister. The children are now living in the US with their family.
Michael Martin has 92 previous convictions, five for each of his adult life.
Judge Keenan Johnson noted that Martin suffered sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect as a child. He had a "chaotic and unhappy" childhood and had "fallen through the cracks".
At an earlier sentencing hearing, Martin's barrister said his childhood "made for grim reading". He left school at 12 and had begun abusing alcohol before he left school.
He had a low IQ and mild mental handicap. He had "an abusive dysfunctional childhood without any love in it."
But there is not much sympathy for Martin in west Wicklow.
He grew up on a local authority housing estate in Grangecon, a village on the Wicklow/Kildare border, with his parents and siblings.
He came from an ordinary family like everybody else, according to one local person.
The court heard that Martin suffered "chronic post-traumatic stress disorder" from a number of bereavements.
One was "the death of his first girlfriend by suicide, while she was pregnant with their child".
The other was the death of a "playmate" who fell into a septic tank.
That child was Sandra Doyle, who was four years old when she drowned in 1990. Martin was 11.
The Doyle family was "sickened to the core" to learn that he claimed Sandra's death as an excuse for his crimes.
"Michael was never a playmate or friends with Sandra; she was only four, he was 11. His younger sister was friends with our little girl - she lost her little friend but managed to grow up to be a fine and decent member of society," Sandra's mother, Margaret, told the Irish Independent last week.
"To think that the death of our little angel has been put on public record and is now associated with the deranged acts of such an evil monster has left us speechless."
Martin was in trouble by his late teens. He was convicted of sexually assaulting a minor, a young girl. According to one local person, after serving his time, he "rambled across mid-Leinster" and "lived a life of crime".
He was soon involved with another minor, starting a 'text' relationship with a 14-year-old girl in 2003. She became "infatuated" with him, the court heard.
He took her to Newbridge, then to Dublin and eventually to Northern Ireland, where they slept rough on the streets, until after four days he was persuaded to bring her back to Dublin on the train. As soon as they arrived, he was arrested.
Martin, who was 24, pleaded guilty to abducting the 14-year-old at Carlow Circuit Court in 2004.
Again, Martin's personal challenges in life were laid out for the judge. He had had a difficult upbringing. He had just recently learnt who his real father was, his lawyer said. And that was "very upsetting for him". At this point, according to the court reports, Martin broke down in tears.
The judge sentenced him to four years in jail, with two suspended.
With a litany of crimes to his name, Martin was shunned in the community around west Wicklow.
"Locally, this guy was ostracised," said one local person. "He was very quick to run to the gardai and complain if people told him to get out of the area. Anywhere he went, he was persona non grata."
People couldn't believe it when Martin gave interviews boasting about how he assaulted the notorious rapist, Larry Murphy, who lived in Baltinglass. Martin was also living in Baltinglass at the time and he claimed that a year before Murphy went to jail, Martin thumped him in the face for touching his ex-girlfriend.
Martin, whose last address was in Waterford, was on bail when he attempted to snatched the 11-year-old girl in Cullohill.
Two weeks before the attack, he sought help from psychiatric services in Waterford, the court was told. According to Judge Keenan Johnson, this suggested a "recognition" by Martin that he was "in need of help and support".
The judge suggested that resources focused "on rehabilitation rather than punishment could probably provide society with better outcomes". However, that was a debate for another day, he said.
Martin pleaded guilty to false imprisonment of the child in Cullohill. For all of his personal difficulties, Judge Johnson jailed Martin for 17 years, four suspended, with strict conditions attached. Had he the option, the judge said, he would have imposed a life sentence for the protection of society.
Martin had done a "terrible thing" but he wasn't sure whether Martin fully appreciated that.