A South East man has been jailed for eight years for attempting to murder his four children, two of whom he thought he’d succeeded in killing. The Central Criminal Court imposed a 12-year sentence but suspended the final four years on a number of conditions.
The judge this morning described a narcissistic element to the crime. He noted that the man said he had planned to take his own life after strangling his children, and thought that they would be better off dead than without him.
The man, who cannot be named to protect his children, had pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of his children at the family home on June 3, 2016, with one child telling him: ‘Daddy we can get you help, just don’t do it’.
Mr Justice Michael White had regard to the victim impact statement read by their mother in a sentence hearing last week.
She said she would never forget receiving a ‘horrible voicemail’ from her eldest child screaming, and a Snapchat of one of her other children on the bed.
“I knew in my gut something crazy had happened,” she said.
The judge also took into account a report on the children by Tusla and a report by a psychotherapist on the eldest child.
Regarding the attempted murderer, he considered a medical report from his family GP, some 24 character references by friends, neighbours and community activists, along with a positive prison governor's report
He explained that the sentence should take rehabilitation into consideration, and had to consider if sentences should be imposed concurrently or consecutively.
He also said the court had a responsibility to assess the effect of his psychiatric illness on what happened.
He said that, although the attack on each child was of the utmost seriousness, it was appropriate to sentence concurrently due to the timing.
“The two younger children were left for dead,” he noted. “The headline sentence must be life imprisonment.”
He said that the aggravating factors included the horrific nature of the offence and the effect on the children’s lives.
“The future effect on their lives is not possible to quantify,” he said.
Further factors to consider were the effect on their mother and ‘the narcissistic element of the offences’, in the context of marital breakdown ‘showing complete lack of respect for their autonomy, in the attitude that the children would be better off dead without him’.
In mitigation, he noted his guilty plea, his remorse, his previous good character, his ‘exemplary role as a father previously, which makes it all the harder to understand his crimes’.
He said that, because of his previous psychiatric history, it was appropriate to mitigate the sentence on those grounds.
He noted that the accused had first presented to his GP in 2010 with low mood, paranoia and contemplating suicide. He said ‘he often thought of taking the lives of his wife and children’.
He was diagnosed with moderate to severe depression and was admitted to hospital and given medication.
He was later also diagnosed with social phobia and a past history of substance abuse and has been on medication since.
“The court has not had the benefit of a psychiatric report detailing the reasons for his actions,” he said. “If there was evidence of previous domestic violence, the court could more readily accept the actions of the accused.”
The court previously head that the man’s relationship with his wife had broken down the previous month and there had been ‘unhappy differences’ between them which seemed to affect him badly.
The man, who had a history of depression, attempted to strangle two of his children and left them when he thought they were dead, before moving onto the other two children in the next bedroom.
The man had been minding his children as his wife was going out for the night. His father was in a nearby house minding other grandchildren when his son arrived at the house at 7.20pm saying: “I hurt the kids, I’ve done something stupid to the kids.”
The grandfather ran over to his son’s house and saw two of the children in a “panicked state” in the driveway. The grandfather found the other two children on their backs in the main bedroom, one crying and the other unconscious. He contacted the emergency services and managed to revive one of the children.
Two of the children’s faces were purple and their eyes were bloodshot. They were gasping for air and had red marks on their necks.
The other two children were treated with oxygen by paramedics in their bedroom and one of these was in a critical condition. They were later accompanied by their mother to the hospital in an air ambulance.
The accused was located by gardai and said he was planning on killing himself when he found out his wife was going on a date that evening and he did not want his children upset that he had taken his life. “I thought if I killed them they wouldn’t be upset. I thought I had to do it,” he said.
The man said that when he went to strangle two of his children, they looked at him and asked him what he was doing. He told gardai: ‘I thought it would make them happier’.
He said he was upset as his wife of four years was going on a date with another man who she had been texting since January. “I thought the marriage was good, anytime she wanted to go I let her go out,” he added.
The defendant said he had been crying that evening in his house and his children were worried about him. He told gardai he was texting his wife and she had sent him a text message saying it was “time to stop crying” and to tell the children "what he wanted".
He said he started tickling two of his children in their bedroom and then his hands began to “strangle” them as he pressed down on their neck with his thumb. “I kept going until they were dead and I kissed both of them of the foreheads and left them where they were,” he said.
Two other children were playing Xbox in their bedroom, the man told gardai, and they did not know what had just happened. The man then grabbed two of them “at once” and put his hand up against them at the same time. The man said to them that it was their mammy’s fault and one of them replied: “Daddy we can get you help just don’t do it.”
The court heard he did not have the energy to “hold any longer” on their necks and he left them go before getting help from his father.
When asked by gardai if he was reckless taking his medication, he said he had been without tablets for a few days and was now only taking one a day.
The man said he intended to kill himself after taking the lives of his children, adding “then we would all be free”. He also told gardai he was going to stab himself repeatedly and the reason this happened was because the text from his wife. He had replied, telling her she would ‘regret all of this’
A medical report was read to the court in which the doctor said the four children’s injuries were consistent with a serious assault by their father and there was clear medical evidence of an attempted strangulation by him.
A psychiatric report was also read to the court in which it said the children had suffered severe trauma that night and they had lost their safe environment. Their world had been turned upside down overnight, Mr Burns read, and things would never be the same again.
Both parents had been described as extremely attentive parents with happy and active children. People spoke of how well the children had turned out.
Their mother read a victim impact statement on behalf of her and the four children in which she described how their lives had changed.
She said she would never forget receiving a "horrible voicemail" from her eldest child screaming and a Snapchat from them of one of her other children on the bed. “I knew in my gut something crazy had happened,” she said.
She said the hardest part after the event was watching her son, once a bubbly boy, wearing sunglasses in the house as his eyes were very bruised.
She said they were the bravest children one could ever meet and she was so proud of them all.
“All the children know what is happening here today, they all know their daddy did wrong. They know you have to say sorry when you do wrong and one has to be punished,” she said.
The woman said she was happy that her ex-husband had not put her through a trial and she hoped that sometime he could say sorry “in his own words” to their children. “I’m ready to move on, stop looking over my shoulder, stop living in fear and locking the door,” she said.
Patrick Gageby SC, defending, had read a letter of apology on behalf of his client in which he said: “Anything I say or do will not change what I’ve done or make it better, I want you to know how much I regret it and how sorry I am for putting my four beautiful children through this. The proudest moment of my life was the birth of my kids and they still continue to make me proud every day.”
Justice White yesterday imposed a 12-year sentence with the final four suspended for four years.
The conditions of the suspension included that the accused have no contact with the children unless they specifically requested it, that he would attend for psychiatric reports, take appropriate prescribed medication and remain under the supervision of the probation service.
He backated the sentence to take his time in prison into consideration.
The children’s mother was in court to see their father jailed. She left without making any further comment.