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Man gets nine months in jail for killing friend while drunkenly 'messing' with loaded shotgun

Diarmuid Byrne
Diarmuid Byrne

A MAN was jailed for the manslaughter of his lifelong friend after he pulled the trigger on a pump-action shotgun as the drunken duo were "messing" with the weapon.

Trevor O'Gorman (44) wept as he was jailed for nine months for the unlawful killing of his friend, hunting enthusiast Diarmuid Byrne (41), on April 26 last at Plunkett Road in Ballyphehane, Cork.

Mr Byrne died instantly from catastrophic gunshot injuries to his head and neck.

Medical evidence indicated that the shotgun was discharged from virtually point-blank range in a bedroom of Mr Byrne's home - with Mr Byrne's left hand on the muzzle as it was held near his head.

Judge Sean O'Donnabhain in Cork Circuit Criminal Court was told that the pump-action single-barrel Beretta shotgun was legally held by Mr Byrne, who was a keen hunter and outdoor sports enthusiast.

"The level of recklessness here is huge," he warned.

"You cannot condone discharging a shotgun in a house in circumstances where somebody dies."

The judge noted that the tragedy was the result of "recklessness rather than intention".

But he said that Mr O'Gorman, who had weapons training from the Naval Service, should have known better than to play around with firearms.

"To play with a gun, sober or not, is reckless. But to point a gun at anyone is phenomenally reckless."

The actions of the duo with the shotgun in the bedroom were described as "crazy" and "stupid".

"Stupidly wouldn't account for it. He is a trained man. There is no excuse," the judge said.

He imposed a three-year prison sentence but agreed to suspend the final two years and three months given Mr O'Gorman's plea, his remorse and his co-operation with gardai.

The Beretta shotgun had a safety mechanism which was not engaged, and it did not have a hair trigger.

Mr O'Gorman of Sarahville Place, Pouladuff Road, Cork pleaded guilty to a single charge of manslaughter.

He sobbed as the judge asked to examine the shotgun involved in court.

Sergeant Mark Canny told the court that gardai found no evidence that the duo had been engaged in any argument or altercation that day.

Both had been drinking together for a substantial period.

Similarly, gardai found no indication that the incident was the result of the defendant participating in an assisted suicide.

"We cannot say that," he said.

However, Mr Byrne had been treated for depression.

"At all times, he (Mr O'Gorman) said he believed the gun was not loaded," Sgt Canny said.

Mr O'Gorman had raised the alarm immediately after the shooting.

However, he was very confused and vague as to precisely what had happened though he immediately admitted he had pulled the trigger on the gun.

Forensic and ballistic tests indicated that the shotgun had been loaded by the deceased.

It was found to contain three rounds of No 5 cartridges - one of which had been discharged.

Mr Byrne was found to have a blood alcohol level of 237mg while Mr O'Gorman, who was only tested two and a half hours after the tragedy, was found to have a blood alcohol concentration of 287mg.

"There is evidence that they both had a history of alcohol abuse," Sgt Canny said.

Ballistic evidence indicated that the shotgun was pointed towards Mr Byrne's forehead when it discharged.

"Diarmuid Byrne was holding the muzzle end of the barrel with his left hand when the fatal shot was fired. His right hand was over his left hand."

Jim O'Mahony SC, for Mr O'Gorman, said his client was "devastated" and "shattered" by the freak tragedy.

"He is very remorseful over what happened," he said.

The defendant had worked as a taxi driver but lost his job when he was convicted of drink driving.

He resides with his elderly parents and had been very close to Mr Byrne, with whom he had gone hunting.

The day before the tragic shooting, Mr O'Gorman had posed for photos in Mr Byrne's house while holding the weapon, even wearing ammunition belts.

Mr O'Mahony said it was "an unique case".

"I have never come across a case with two adults playing with a shotgun in a bedroom of a house."

In a victim impact statement, Mr Byrne's sister, Ber Lyons, said her entire family was left reeling by the tragedy.

"Our family feels so empty now without Diarmuid's infectious spirit and tremendous heart," she said.

"This loss is only magnified by the way in which he died - too young and too soon.

"One of the most difficult things for us was going to the house afterwards knowing that this was where Diarmuid had died."

The single-barrel weapon was legally held by Mr Byrne and was reloaded by a pump-action mechanism.

It was a modern weapon and had a safety mechanism near the trigger.

A full post-mortem examination was conducted by Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster at CUH.

She told an inquest last year that Mr Byrne had to be identified from dental records.

He had died from severe trauma to the frontal part of his brain.

Mr Byrne had suffered multiple lacerations to the brain and brain stem due to a gunshot wound.

The deceased, nicknamed 'Byrnsie', was known in the tightknit Ballyphehane community as a hunting enthusiast who was also a devoted dog owner.

The deceased was single and worked over recent years with a Cork building supply firm.