Dublin mum's heartbreak as eldest son killed brother with knife
VICTIM impact statements have been described as the most difficult piece of writing any parent will ever have to do.
But when Rita McGrath sat down to write her statement, she had to not only pay tribute to dead son, but also plead for mercy for her other son.
In October 2008, Rita described how she did not want to “lose another son” to a long prison sentence after her eldest, Derek, admitted killing his younger brother, Anthony.
The heart-rending case highlighted the dangers posed by carrying weapons while binge drinking.
For most of his life, Derek McGrath, of Fortlawn Park, Blanchardstown, Dublin, had acted as a father-figure as well as an elder brother to Anthony, who was 11 years his junior.
During his trial, the court also heard how their father had chronic alcohol problems and Derek had looked after his two younger brothers when they were growing up. There was no history of bad blood between the two men.
But in October 2006, the McGrath family would he torn apart after Derek, then 34 years old, caused his 23-year-old brother’s death, stabbing him in the neck during a row following a family Christening.
The court heard how Derek had been drinking for two days before the killing.
He had been to a 40th birthday party on the Friday night and, during a Christening, drank 12 pints, as well as taking cocaine and Valium.
After arriving at Anthony’s house, Derek fell asleep on the couch in the sitting room.
Anthony and his friend, Joe Larkin, were in the kitchen preparing food when they had an argument about Anthony’s ex-girlfriend.
She had moved out of Anthony’s house 10 months previously and had gone to stay at Mr Larkin’s - a fact that Anthony had not been aware of. Derek woke up and went into the kitchen and attempted to stop the row but instead an argument broke out between him and his brother.
Anthony had fetched a small axe from his van outside the house.
He “swung the hatchet at them” and, in trying to get at his brother, “struck Larkin on the forehead”.
Shortly afterwards, Derek went into the kitchen and got two knives, and the scuffle continued in the garden.
Larkin tried to separate them but the “damage had been done”.
When they were pulled apart, Anthony was holding his right shoulder and saying “call the ambulance”.
When gardaí arrived they found Derek crouched over his brother, holding his head.
He kept saying “sorry” and “God, let him live”, asking if his brother was going to be ok.
Anthony died of a single stab wound to the neck.
Blood-stained shirt at the scene
Derek later told gardaí in interviews that he “couldn’t remember getting the knives” and that he “sobered up when he was putting a T-shirt on Anthony’s wound”.
He said that he “understood straight away what he had done”.
A victim impact statement written by his and Anthony’s mother, Rita McGrath, was read out to the court. It said that her life “changed forever”.
The statement added: “Anthony was a son any mother would have been proud of. He was loved by all his family, including Derek.”
Mrs McGrath wrote that Derek “has many difficulties in his life” and that she “knows he is traumatised and in great pain”.
She “wants justice for Anthony and knows that Derek has to be punished, but she does not want to lose another son through a long prison sentence”.
“Derek loved Anthony from the moment he was born. He was very protective of him.
“Derek tried to fill the role of father to his two younger brothers. I am in so much pain to lose a child.
“Any punishment Derek receives will not be as bad as what he is going through at the moment.”
His youngest brother, Thomas, wrote: “For the 17 years I’ve known Derek, he took the role of father to me and Tony. I believe what Derek did was an accident.”
Derek’s partner, Rhonda, said that she has been in a relationship with him most of her life, since she was 12 years old and he was 13.
“He spent most of his teenage life fighting addiction... all the children were very close to Tony and are still trying to deal with what happened on that tragic night...I know in my heart of hearts that Derek never meant to hurt Tony.”
Derek pleaded guilty to the manslaughter and was jailed for four-and-a-half years.
Delivering his sentence, Mr Justice Paul Carney said: “This is the fourth case of fratricide which I’ve had within a short space of time.
“These cases tend to arise from an alcohol-fuelled row between loving members of a family. These cases are particularly difficult both for the accused and for the family concerned.
“In this case, the family who are also the victims, asked me to consider a moderate sentence on the basis of having lost one son they do not want to lose another to a long prison sentence.
“I have to balance that consideration against the ruling of the Chief Justice that not only does voluntary consumption of alcohol and drugs afford no defence, but also affords no mitigating factors against responsibilities in society.”