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Woman who stabbed her partner to death loses appeal

Maura Thornton
Maura Thornton

A woman jailed for killing a former partner outside her apartment in Galway four years ago, has lost an appeal against her seven year jail term for manslaughter.

Maura Thornton (33), from Inverin in Connemara, Co Galway, had admitted stabbing 59-year-old American Kevin Joyce to death outside her apartment in Salthill, Galway on July 31 2011 but denied it was murder.

A jury at a Galway sitting of the Central Criminal Court unanimously found her not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter and she was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment with the final three suspended by Mr Justice Barry White on March 13 2013.

Speaking on behalf of the Court of Appea yesterday, Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan said Thornton and Joyce had a shared interest in Celtic studies and had met at University College Galway in 2011 where a friendship and relationship developed.

The relationship involved excessive consumption of alcohol, Mr Justice Sheehan said, and Thornton decided to withdraw.

She embarked upon a program and managed to stay sober for six weeks, the judge said.

Although she had terminated the relationship, Joyce made numerous attempts to contact her. It lead to her ending her sobriety and caused her to drink excessively on the night in question, Mr Justice Sheehan said.

Joyce had entered the roof-top area of her apartment on the night in question by climbing up the emergency stairwell, the judge said.

Thornton was in the room with her mother and her mother's partner at the time. A stand-off apparently ensued, the judge said, and Joyce was told to get away.

When he would not go, Thornton confronted him and stabbed him 18 times, Mr Justice Sheehan said.

She called the gardaí to say she had stabbed somebody but the gardaí could not interview her when they arrived due to her state of intoxication, he said.

Counsel for Thornton, Blaise O'Carroll SC, submitted that the sentence was excessive and the judge gave insufficient weight to mitigating factors beyond her great remorse and offer to plead guilty to manslaughter.

Mr O'Carroll said alcoholism was the critical factor in the relationship and the judge gave insufficient weight to her own personal circumstances. 

Mr Justice Sheehan said the sentencing judge considered the mitigating factors including Thornton's history of alcohol dependency and other mental health issues which required occasional hospitalisation.

It was noteworthy, he said, that having heard evidence from the deceased's mother and having read a very comprehensive pshyciatric report the sentencing judge put the matter back for two days to consider the appropriate sentence.

Mr Justice Sheehan said the sentencing judge carefully identified 10 years as the appropriate starting point and he “quite correctly” mitigated the sentence by suspending the final three years on terms designed to incentivise Thornton's rehabilitation.

Accordingly, Mr Justice Sheehan, who sat with Mr Justice John Edwards and Mr Justice Alan Mahon, dismissed the appeal.