Violent thug given extra two years in jail following sentence appeal

Appeal: Lee McDonnell
Appeal: Lee McDonnell

A Dublin man who pistol-whipped a garage worker and robbed a number of items has been given an extra two years in jail following an appeal by prosecutors that his original sentence was too lenient.

Lee McDonnell (23), of Lough Conn road in Ballyfermot, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to possession of an imitation firearm with intent to commit robbery at Sarsfield Service Station, Ballyfermot on January 21 2012.

McDonnell also pleaded guilty to robbery of cigarettes and a sunglasses case and to robbery of the shop assistant on the same occasion.

He was sentenced to six years imprisonment with the final three suspended by Judge Martin Nolan at on November 19 2012.

The Director of Public Prosecutions successfully appealed McDonnell's three year jail term on grounds that it was “unduly lenient” and the Court of Appeal imposed a new effective sentence on him today of six years imprisonment with the final year suspended.

The appeal was due to be heard before the three-judge Court of Appeal last December, however the court was told on that occasion that McDonnell was “not present” and was “not going to be produced due to circumstances beyond anybody's control”.

Speaking on behalf of the Court of Appeal today, Mr Justice Alan Mahon said McDonnell and another man had entered a service station in Ballyfermot on the date in question. Both men were hooded and McDonnell carried an imitation firearm.

An employee was pistol whipped and another employee was robbed of his possessions but there was a timelock on the safe in the premises, Mr Justice Mahon said and there was no necessity for the firearm to be inflicted on the employee.

Mr Justice Mahon said the judge had erred in his approach to sentencing by merely taking the firearms offence into account when he sentenced McDonnell for robbery.

The court imposed a new sentence of four years imprisonment for the robbery charge and six years imprisonment with the final year suspended for the firearm offence. Both sentences are to run concurrently.

The Court was obliged to impose the concurrent sentences consecutive to a five year sentence imposed on McDonnell in Naas in July 2014 for a burglary committed on March 15 2011. He was on bail for this offence when he committed the Ballyfermot robbery, the court heard.

The court was also informed that McDonnell is serving a nine year sentence with two suspended for aggravated burglary.

Mr Justice Michael Peart said McDonnell was fully entitled to credit for time already served on the original sentence which had been set aside by the court. He had served three years and some months on that sentence which had been backdated to January 23 2011 and the sentence was structured to reflect that.

Counsel for the DPP, Michael Bowman SC, said McDonnell had 88 previous convictions at the time of sentencing. However that position had “advanced considerably” in the intervening period and he now had 111 as of today.

Mr Bowman had submitted that the sentencing judge erred in suspending 50 per cent of McDonnell's sentence.

The only basis on which 50 per cent of the sentence was suspended was McDonnell's relative youth, Mr Bowman said. He was 21 at the time of the offence.

Notwithstanding his youth, Mr Bowman said McDonnell had amassed 88 previous convictions. “Most troublingly" was that McDonnell had previously received a four year sanction for hijacking a vehicle, the inference being that a four year term of imprisonment was not enough to deter a 21-year-old.

Mr Bowman said McDonnell displayed a gratuitous level of violence in the offence. The firearm had become superfluous by the time it was deployed, the robbery had been completed when it was used and the victim was retreating from the shop.

A witness had described the firearm as being 'cocked' and little weight could be attached to the fact that it was a replica, Mr Bowman said.

It was used to convey fear and was used to whip or assault the injured party. It was used to the “maximum effect,” he said.