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Dublin man credited for staying at scene after stabbing cousin

CourtsBy Sunday World
Gardai at the scene of the fatal stabbing in Cannonbrook, Lucan, Co Dublin
Gardai at the scene of the fatal stabbing in Cannonbrook, Lucan, Co Dublin

A Dublin man who fatally stabbed his cousin with a flick knife the deceased had just received as a present was entitled to credit for staying at the scene and administering CPR, the Court of Appeal has stated.

Shane Millea (30), with a last address at Celbridge, Co Kildare, had pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of his cousin Paul Harris (33) at the Cannonbrook estate in Lucan, Co Dublin on December 2, 2010. He had been charged with murder but his plea to manslaughter was accepted by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

In May 2012, the father-of-one was sentenced to ten years imprisonment with the final two suspended by Mr Justice Paul Carney on condition that he "never possesses a knife in perpetuity".

He successfully appealed his sentence in December 2014 with the Court of Appeal holding that his guilty plea was not the only mitigating factor. He was accordingly resentenced to eight years imprisonment with the final three suspended.

Stating reasons for the three-judge court's decision today, Mr Justice Alan Mahon said Millea had stayed at the scene and sought help from emergency services. He had tried to administer CPR to his cousin taking advice from paramedics over the phone.

His genuine remorse was of such a character that it should also have been a mitigating factor, the judge said.

It was a mid-range offence rather than at the upper end of the scale, Mr Justice Mahon said, having regard to the circumstances in which the knife came to be used and the element of "self-defence".

Mr Justice Mahon said these factors should have been taken into account by the sentencing judge, who had erred in imposing the original sentence.

The court heard that Millea made a statement to gardai where he admitted stabbing Paul Harris in self defence after the deceased man attacked him with an axe handle. Detective Inspector Richard McDonald testified that gardai had no evidence to counteract Millea’s version of events as there were no other witnesses.

Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan, presiding at the Court of Appeal, had said the court found that the trial judge did err in principle in the sentence he imposed, and the court was satisfied that Millea was entitled to succeed in his appeal against the severity of the sentence.

She said the court had been able to reach its decision but wanted to give its reasons for doing so in a reserved judgement. Ms Justice Finlay-Geoghegan said the court would therefore set aside the sentence of ten years with two years suspended.

The judge said the court recognised it was "not very satisfactory" for it to impose a sentence without giving its full reasons, but having regard to the “unfortunate” illness of Millea’s mother, the court found it should impose a sentence and would give its full reasons for doing so in its judgement.

Counsel for Millea, Mr Paul Burns SC, had told the Court of Appeal that Millea’s mother was ill but the applicant could not secure temporary release to visit her as the prison service did not consider him appropriate for temporary release because of his pending appeal.  

Ms Justice Finlay-Geoghegan said the court had considered the gravity of the offence and, before taking in to account any mitigating factors, found it warranted a sentence of eight years to date from the time the applicant went in to custody on December 2, 2010.

She said the court had considered the relevant mitigating factors, including Millea’s immediate remorse, acceptance of responsibility and the assistance which he attempted to provide to the victim immediately after the offence.

Ms Justice Finlay-Geoghegan said the court would suspend the last three years of the eight-year sentence on condition that Millea enter in to bond to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for a period of four years from today’s date.

Mr Burns had told the Court of Appeal that it should approach the sentence on the basis that the sentencing judge placed the offence at the wrong point on the scale of gravity and erred by using a ten-year sentence as a starting point.

He said this should be seen in particular having regard to the excessive force used in self defence.

Counsel submitted that Mr Justice Carney did not give sufficient credit to the case being one of self defence involving excessive force.

He said the judge appeared to have seen the number of stab wounds inflicted by Millea as an aggravating factor, even though this was the "essence of the offence".

Mr Burns said it would not have been manslaughter if the response had been proportionate to the attack, and would instead have been a full defence resulting in an acquittal.

Counsel also submitted that Mr Justice Carney did not give sufficient mitigation and was in error by holding Millea’s plea of guilty as the only mitigating factor.

He said the sentencing judge did not appear to have afforded any mitigation to the fact that Millea stayed at the scene of the offence, contacted the emergency services and rendered such first aid as he could.

Mr Burns said that Millea cooperated with the investigation and showed genuine, instantaneous remorse and had no history of violence. Counsel said Millea's previous convictions for the possession of knives "appeared to have been minor matters".

Counsel for the State, Mr Shane Murphy SC, told the appeal court that the was no error in principle, and Mr Justice Carney had looked at the evidence "very carefully" and applied his ruling to the facts of the case.

He said the sentencing judge looked at the degree and nature of violence used by the accused, and the court made reference to the approach taken toward sentencing for offences of manslaughter.

Mr Murphy submitted that that approach taken to sentencing should be tailored to the circumstances of the offence and not the defence raised by the accused.

The sentencing court heard evidence that a post-mortem examination carried out by Professor Marie Cassidy found that Paul Harris suffered six stab wounds and that his death was due to bleeding caused by the severing of his femoral artery and injuries to his abdominal organs.

Mr Justice Carney said the case had been portrayed as a tragic one in which the accused in self-defence killed his cousin and best friend, where the friendship appeared to have been based on a deep rooted interest in knives.

He said that both the defendant and the victim had previous convictions for the possession of knives and an "extraordinary feature" of the case was that the day before his death the deceased was given a present of the flick knife that killed him.

Brian Kavanagh