Victim reacts  | 

Sinead Connolly says ‘I'm happy with what he got' after Dean McCarthy jailed

He had pleaded guilty to attempted murder when he repeatedly shot her at her flat in Bernard Curtis House, Bluebell Road, Dublin 12, on March 6 last year.

Victim Sinead Connolly pictured leaving the central criminal court in Dublin

Conor Feehan and Alison O'Riordan

A mother-of-one who was shot by her neighbour, leaving her in a wheelchair, has spoken of her relief after he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Dean McCarthy (33) had subjected neighbour Sinead Connolly (34) to a campaign of abuse where he regularly called her a "whore" and had grabbed her by the throat and spat in her face.

McCarthy also told her he was going to "leave her in a body bag".

He had pleaded guilty to attempted murder when he repeatedly shot her at her flat Bernard Curtis House, Bluebell Road, Dublin 12, on March 6 last year.

Little Leah, who witnessed the shooting of her mum Sinead

He also pleaded guilty to possession of a semi-automatic handgun, with intent to endanger life on the same date, and to having ammunition.

At the Central Criminal Court today Mr Justice Paul McDermott passed the 15 year sentence, commenting on the extreme nature of the violence, the undercurrent of threats and bullying, and the ease with which McCarthy was able to get a gun.

Reaction to the decision, Ms Connolly said: "It's overwhelming, but I'm happy with what he got. Obviously I think anyone like that should be just locked away forever but considering he pleaded guilty I thought he was going to get 12 years but he got sixteen, so I'm really happy with that."

Before delivering the sentence today, Mr Justice McDermott said McCarthy was the victim's next-door neighbour who he had known since early childhood and lived beside for many years.

Ms Connolly, he said, received emergency surgery for life-threatening and "very severe" injuries after suffering multiple gunshot wounds to her upper body and was subjected to intense medical care to ensure her life was secure.

Following this, she underwent further surgery to stabilise her spine, he added. "As a result she is paraplegic and she requires a wheelchair for all mobility. These [injuries] are going to lead to further problems in the future such as upper limb pain," he continued.

Referring to Ms Connolly's victim impact statement, Mr Justice McDermott said it focused on how she and her young daughter, who was in a nearby kitchen during the shooting, had been "physically and emotionally" affected by this event.

Beyond the medical problems, he said, Ms Connolly's daughter was now being looked after by the victim's sister which has "broken" the closeness of their relationship. There is also a reliance on others for the care of her daughter into the future as Ms Connolly remains in the National Rehabilitation Centre, he added.

Regarding the relationship between the defendant and the victim, the judge described it as "very poor" and said Ms Connolly had been subjected to "aggressive behaviour" by McCarthy in the months leading up to March 6 such as when he grabbed her by the throat and spat in her face.

"In one of the last encounters he threatened to leave her in a body bag. None of these episodes were known to gardaí before March 6," he continued.

Thug: Dean McCarthy

The judge said it had also emerged in the probation report that there had been "a history" between McCarthy and one of Ms Connolly's brothers.

Mr Justice McDermott referred to the victim's request that four men call over to McCarthy's flat because of the escalating situation in the previous months between them. One of these men in the CCTV footage, said the judge, had made a "clearly threatening gesture" by forming his hand in the shape of a gun.

He said that whilst the court accepted that there was no pre-existing plan to go to Ms Connolly's flat that day, McCarthy's plea to attempted murder was an acceptance that he had shot the victim with an intent to kill her.

An aggravating factor in the case, he said, was that the offence was committed in the victim's home when her eight-year-old child was in the kitchen. McCarthy had "kicked in" the door of Ms Connolly's flat, shot her within seconds and discharged a round into her as she lay on the couch, he continued.

The judge said the accused had attempted to dispose of the weapon after the shooting and no attempt was made to obtain assistance for the victim.

He also pointed out that the offences were of the "most serious kind" and that Ms Connolly had come very close to death, which was only avoided by the "tiniest of margins".

The judge said McCarthy's perception was he felt threatened by the four men who called to his door in an intimidating fashion and made a decision to procure a gun in a very short space of time when he sensed that he was in immediate danger.

He set the headline sentence at 21 years in prison before considering mitigation factors.

In mitigation, Mr Justice McDermott noted the defendant's admission of guilt and the sincere remorse reflected in his letter of apology, where he expressed regret and sympathy for how his actions had affected the victim, her daughter and family.

The judge took into account the accused's mental health difficulties and history of drug abuse.

A previous court sitting heard that McCarthy was Ms Connolly's neighbour and lived immediately adjacent to her in a block of flats in Bluebell, and that they had known each other for a significant period of time from living and growing up together in the area.

It was heard that McCarthy had indicated some degree of aggression towards her in the preceding months and would "whack" his arm off her and call her names in front of her eight-year-old daughter. He would regularly call her a ‘whore’ and grab her by the throat and spit in her face.

Brave: Sinead Connolly with her daughter Leah, who witnessed the shooting

One of the last occasions Ms Connolly met him prior to March 6 he told her he was going to leave her in a body bag and she said she felt like he wanted her dead, the court was told.

On March 6, the court heard, preparations for a birthday party were being made and arrangements were in place that four friends would call to Ms Connolly's home.

Ms Connolly told gardaí that because of the escalating situation and concern for her safety with McCarthy, she wanted her four friends "to knock into" the defendant's flat and "ask him to stop".

CCTV footage showed Ms Connolly's four male friends knocked at McCarthy's flat and returning again when there was no answer.

The court heard there was phone contact between McCarthy and two other men and a short while later a man who was carrying a gun met McCarthy in his flat.

McCarthy himself was injured when the weapon went off during the handover.

Immediately after this McCarthy went to Connolly’s and shot her.

She was in the sitting room and her four friends were in the kitchen with her daughter. The kitchen door was barricaded and the child was put under the table.

McCarthy shot five times. Ms Connolly was standing when she was hit but ultimately fell onto the couch. One of the bullets went through her body while she was on the couch before travelling into the wall behind her.

It was this shot that had left Ms Connolly a paraplegic.

An ambulance was called for Ms Connolly, and McCarthy sought medical treatment himself for the injury he received when the gun went off while it was being handed over to him.

He was arrested there and told gardai he had been under threat and bullied for over two years by certain people in the Bluebell area.

A statement from Ms Connolly's treating physician said that she sustained multiple gunshot wounds to her upper body.

She suffered significant bleeding, and after surgery it became apparent that she was not moving her lower limbs.

A CT scan showed a spinal fracture in her upper spine and she was transferred to the spinal unit at the Mater Hospital. The court heard that the injuries she sustained seem unlikely to be reversible and have changed her life.

She remains in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, the court heard.

Ms Connolly's daughter is in the care of her sister and the victim has never been in a position to return to live in her home.

As a result of her injury, she is paraplegic and requires a wheelchair for all mobility and needs to use alternate methods to manage her bladder and bowel.

Her life expectancy is also reduced by the injury.

McCarthy’s defence counsel, Brendan Grehan SC, told the previous court sitting that the "stand-out thing" from this case is that Ms Connolly has been left in a wheelchair with various medical complications.

He said matters had "boiled over" between Ms Connolly and McCarthy that day and there was "something of a dispute simmering in the background".

Sinead Connolly

Mr Grehan called the CCTV footage of the four men calling to McCarthy’s door "very menacing".

He said it showed the men banging on McCarthy's door, waiting outside but getting no response. He said one man can be seen holding up his fingers "like a pistol or a gun sign".

Mr Grehan said McCarthy told gardaí that in desperation he had got a firearm but never intended to use it and only wanted to protect himself and his home.

He said he never meant for anybody to get hurt and only wanted to show them the gun so they would leave him alone.

"He is disgusted at himself for what happened. There was never a plan to go into the flat. It just happened," said the lawyer.

At the previous hearing Mr Grehan read a letter of apology written by McCarthy which said: "I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise to Sinead and her family after the incident we found ourselves in last month.

"I'm disgusted by my actions on that day and need you to know that I had no intentions of entering your flat prior to being shot accidentally.

"I completely lost all sense of reality, and had I known you and your daughter were in the flat I would have went straight to the hospital as I know now that's what I should have done.

"I can never take back what happened, all I can do is offer my deepest apologies to you and your family and tell you I never intended things to go that far. The whole situation was a complete nightmare from beginning to end and will haunt me until the day I die.”

In her victim impact statement, Sinead Connolly described how she was at home with her daughter and some friends when McCarthy "burst" into her house with a gun.

"I was shot three times and as a result, I have been left paralysed; paralysed forever,” she said.

“Another serious consequence of this heinous act is I have a high dependency on a multitude of pharmaceuticals and almost 100pc reliance on other people, both medical staff and family.

She said McCarthy’s “delusionary sense of power transformed him into the epitome of a bully who subjected both me and my daughter to this bullying”.

She said that since this attempt on her life she has had to endure constant medical problems, almost perpetual infections, low blood pressure and panic attacks.

"The pain is not limited to physical. It is obviously emotional, both for me and my daughter.

"We have had to separate from each other and I have had to relinquish my parenting role and my responsibility for my daughter's well-being. This is extremely hard because we are so close.

“My daughter has had to leave home and change schools but no child should ever have to witness her mother covered in blood, lying unconscious on the floor.

"All these things that we take for granted, such as lifting our kids, going to the seaside, swimming, climbing, dancing together are all beyond my physical ability. Any plans we had were diminished by Dean McCarthy,” said the statement.

McCarthy was sentenced to 16 years with one suspended for the attempted murder, and eight years and six years for the possession of the gun and ammunition which will run concurrently.

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