Wednesday 22 November 2017

Man who brutally attacked Irish student and friend in US sentenced to 90 years in prison

Natasha McShane. Alan Lewis - Photopress Belfast 24-4-2010
Natasha McShane. Alan Lewis - Photopress Belfast 24-4-2010
Natasha McShane: was left severely disabled after attack

John Breslin

A man who brutally attacked a young Irish student and her friend on a street in Chicago has been sentenced to 90 years in prison.

Heriberto Viramontes, convicted of the April 2010 attempted murder of Natasha McShane and Stacy Jurich, must serve 85pc of the sentence because of the particularly terrible nature of the crime.

It effectively means life for 35-year-old Viramontes.

At Cook County Criminal Court in the US city of Chicago, Judge Jorge Alonso said the sentence was based on the "brutality and cold blooded heartlessness displayed on the night."

He received 25 years for each of the attempted murders of McShane and Jurich and further 20 year sentences for aggravated armed robbery, all consecutive.

Ahead of the sentencing, Natasha's mother Sheila took the stand to deliver a victim impact statement, described the continuing pain, anguish and emotional turmoil the once highly gifted student and her family are going through.

All because of the "brutal display of humanity" that night in 2010 when a random act changed lives forever.

"If it was not (Natasha) then it would have been somebody else. That's the sad part," said Mrs McShane.

"We want justice whatever the outcome....Natasha will have a life sentence of her own to serve, a life sentence of pain and misery and unfulfilment."

Attacker Heriberto Viramontes

Attacker Heriberto Viramontes

The attack happened early in the morning of April 23, 2010, as the young women returned home from a night out in the Bucktown neighbourhood on Chicago's northside.

McShane, then 23, a UCD graduate on an education exchange programme at the University of Illinois, was celebrating after securing an internship.

But as they walked to Jurich's apartment, passing beneath an underpass, Viramontes came from behind, striking each woman once across the back of the head, then stealing their purses.

The trial last October heard McShane was hit with such force she fell hard on the ground, unconscious.

McShane spent weeks in a medically induced coma as doctors worked to repair the severe damage caused to her brain.

She was returned home in July 2010 and continued to receive treatment in two Belfast hospitals.

The petite, 4ft 11in McShane, now 27, from Silverbridge in Co Armagh, remains severely disabled, barely able to walk or talk. Her mother Sheila told the court she needed constant care, with a team of health workers helping the family.

Natasha goes to therapy five days a week, mostly communicated through a picture book while her entire left side was extremely weak.

Mrs McShane, who attended the hearing with husband Liam and son Conor, said Natasha can now string maybe three or four coherent words together.

But not often, Mrs McShane added.

PL 1293776_highres.jpg
Liam and Sheila McShane, the parents of Natasha McShane, pictured during interview with Sun-Times at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago (photo by John H White/Chicago Sun-Times)

Liam and Sheila McShane, the parents of Natasha McShane, pictured during interview with Sun-Times at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago (photo  by John H White/Chicago Sun-Times)

Jurich, from Chicago's southside, was less badly injured but still suffers, her vision impaired, tremors in her hands, nightmares.

She told the sentencing hearing that after her "skull was bashed open" and time in hospital was only the beginning.

After discharge she lost her apartment, her job and went to live relatives. She was unable to bathe herself and still cannot drive a car or ride a bike. There are the continuing medical bills that have left her with mounting debt from health care bills.

Jurich described Viramontes as a "cowardly, evil being" who in a moment under that turned her from a "smiling and laughing" young woman into a person "dripping with blood...wondering if Natasha was alive." 

"I believe while he will be off the streets unable to destroy another family, Natasha's family struggles every day. This man will not know the anguish me and my family continue to go through," Jurich said, fighting back tears and openly drying as she gave her statement.

And addressing the judge, she added: "Please consider how we will continue to struggle."

The 28-year-old Jurich, due to be married in October, connects with her friend via Skype every month or so. She will visit Ireland next Spring.

But there was also emotional testimony on behalf of Viramontes, with his sister Veronica and mother Maria asking for leniency.

They described him as a good brother to his seven siblings, but someone who struggled academically, who became suicidal after losing one of his twin sons and who grew up without his father, murdered when he was just one year old.

A crying Veronica Ramos said: "He's not a monster, he's a father, and he's not my mother's worst nightmare", the last a reference to a prosecutor's description of Viramontes.

His defence lawyer Chandra Smith appealed to Judge Alonso for leniency asking him to understand who Viramontes is, where he came from, how the murder of his own father and other events deeply affected how he turned out

But then earlier, the court heard directly from Viramontes, as prosecutors were allowed to play a tape of a recorded telephone conversation from the days after McShane returned to Ireland.

"'I pray to God that she's 100 per cent, 1000 per cent better than what she used to be," he says.

"Maybe this is good for both of us, good for her to stop being on the streets late at night drinking."

Viramontes last October was found guilty of attempting to murder Natasha McShane and her friend as they walked home from a night out in Chicago in 2010. He was also convicted on two counts of aggravated battery and two of armed robbery.

His lawyers filed motions asking for either a fresh trial or that the verdict be overturned by Judge Jorge Alonso. These motions were unsuccessful but some of the arguments made will form the basis of an appeal to a higher court.

Viramontes, and his public defender lawyers, claimed the court made a series of errors, including allowed alleged flawed DNA evidence and "inflaming" the jury by showing it video of the badly injured McShane.

The court heard Viramontes had been on the prowl for victims, telling his driver, co-accused, later key prosecution witness, Marcy Cruz: “Look at all those rich white bitches.”

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