Man (20) jailed over stag night assault
A construction worker who took part in a "reprehensible" drink-fuelled attack on a man who died on a stag night in Athlone, but who did not cause his death, has been jailed for a year.
Paul 'Babs' Connolly, 48, from Edenderry, Co Offaly, was found unresponsive on Church Street in the early hours of August 13, 2022.
David Higgins, 20, of St Paul's Terrace, Athlone, pleaded guilty last month at Mullingar Circuit Criminal Court to assault causing harm to Mr Connolly and engaging in violent disorder during the early stage of the altercation.
On Friday, Judge Keenan Johnson imposed concurrent sentences of two years and six months.
He described the incident as reprehensible, dangerous and offensive and recalled that the accused was wearing steel-capped boots when he kicked the victim to his head and body.
The Probation Service, which provided a pre-sentence report on Higgins, believed he was at low risk of re-offending.
But the judge also heard the accused had been convicted of two later public order offences.
Noting the mitigating factors, his remorse, guilty plea, good work history, family support, age, and cooperation with investigating gardai, the judge suspended the final 18 months of the sentence on condition Higgins kept the peace for three years.
Within 12 months of release, Higgins must also engage in anger awareness counselling and alcohol awareness work directed by the Probation Service to address his binge drinking problem.
Detective Sergeant Kevin Craig had told the court the accused drank nine cans of cider and had five or six vodkas since he left work at around 5pm the previous day.
During sentencing, the judge remarked that it was "a pity the drinking culture was so deeply rooted in society" and commented that the advent of alcohol-free drinks was a positive development.
Judge Johnson said it was clear from background information on the victim that Mr Connolly, from a family of 12, was much loved and popular. He extended sympathies to his grieving family.
"That night, he did not even want to go out. He never went out, and he never came home," the victim's sister had told the court.
A co-defendant is awaiting trial accused of manslaughter in connection with the incident.
At last month's hearing, Detective Sergeant Craig agreed with John Hayden BL, prosecuting, that Higgins was involved in an initial part or early stage of the attack.
The court heard it began when Mr Connolly, who had also consumed a large amount of alcohol, allegedly asked another person, "Did you ever watch child pornography?".
When the accused, then 18, heard, "it was third-hand information". Higgins took offence, and despite efforts to hold him back, he and another person "set upon" Mr Connolly.
Detective Sergeant Craig said it was a "protracted assault" with punches and kicks, and the victim fell to the ground but got up and was also dragged by Higgins.
Higgins then worked in a hardware business and wore toe cap industrial boots.
The court heard he pulled off his top, and Higgins's part in the attack continued over 30 metres for seven minutes.
Mr Connolly also managed to land a couple of blows and tried to get to his hotel but was not allowed entry. That part of the incident "fizzled out", and Higgins had no further involvement.
Later, gardai arrived and found Mr Connolly unresponsive on the ground, and a woman, who was a nurse, was trying to revive him, but there was no reaction.
Mr Higgins was nearby and gave his details to gardai.
CCTV footage was played in court.
When questioned by gardai, Higgins admitted kicking the victim with his work boots on the ground to his stomach and head, and he told officers that Mr Connolly "had a hole on his head above his eyebrow."
A medical report stated it was a one-and-a-half-centimetre injury, and the judge said that it was "far less radical" than the description given by Higgins.
Detective Sergeant Craig agreed with Delia Flynn SC, for Higgins, that the comment about child pornography could have been provocative to illicit a response. All parties were inebriated, and a post-mortem found Higgins did not cause Mr Connolly's death.
There was no fracture of the skull, and a report described mild blunt-force trauma to the head.
Higgins worked since he left school in his mid-teens and wanted to become a carpenter, and Ms Flynn described his role in the attack as a case of spontaneous behaviour arising from drinking.
Higgins had apologised at the previous hearing to the Connolly family and said he had attended some alcohol abuse counselling sessions.
Sean Munnelly, 37, of Irishtown, Athlone, is accused of manslaughter of Mr Connolly and awaits a jury trial.
A date has yet to be set for its commencement; his case was adjourned until February 27 for mention.