Sharon Bennett was subjected to a "brutal and sustained attack" in a public toilet at the hands Patrick Ballard, the court heard
PJ Bennett told the Central Criminal Court today that he was sorry he had let his daughter down and that he did not protect her enough.
He added: "I would like to say that I don't blame the Ballard family for what happened to my daughter. I blame Patrick Ballard only; we have all lost here".
Mr Bennett also told the court how Covid restrictions meant the family were not permitted to see Sharon in intensive care for five days after she was admitted to hospital and could not hold a proper funeral when she passed away.
Sentencing judge Mr Justice Paul Burns noted that the circumstances of the killing were "truly harrowing and grim" and said that this was "yet another violent killing" where the victim was a woman and the perpetrator was a man with whom she was in a relationship.
He said she had been subjected to a "brutal and sustained attack" in a public toilet at the hands of the accused and that Ballard had "brushed aside efforts of another man to intervene".
The judge said that the deceased, mother-of-two Sharon Bennett, had a difficult life as she suffered from problems with alcohol. "I want to make clear that she is totally blameless in this matter, only the accused is to blame for what happened," he emphasised.
The testimony was heard as part of an emotional victim impact statement read today to the Central Criminal Court, where Ballard was sentenced to the mandatory term of life imprisonment for murdering his girlfriend Ms Bennett.
The sentence was backdated to January 28 2021, when he went into custody.
The court heard that Patrick Ballard, who told gardai that he "danced" on the deceased's head, has 140 previous convictions dating back to 2006, which include assault and theft.
Of these, 94 are public order offences, 21 are theft and seven are for assault, the most recent in October 2018 when he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.
Ballard (35), formerly of Ashford Court Hotel, Ennis, Co Clare, appeared at the court today for his sentence hearing, having pleaded guilty yesterday, just two days into his trial, to the murder of his former partner.
He had initially pleaded not guilty to murdering Ms Bennett in the Market area of Ennis on January 28, 2021. Ms Bennett died in hospital in Limerick two weeks later on February 10, 2021, due to her injuries.
Ballard and Ms Bennett were in a relationship at the time of the murder and Ms Bennett was a mother of two girls, then aged nine and six, from a previous relationship.
Speaking outside the Criminal Courts of Justice Building today, Mr Bennett said: "I'd like to say that I came here for justice for my daughter, we got justice, he got a mandatory life sentence for the brutal murder he committed on my girl.
"As far as I am concerned life is still not long enough. I hope he dies in jail, that's all I have to say".
Mr Bennett continued: "I've no ill will against the Ballard family whatsoever. Patrick murdered my daughter, not the Ballard family.
"I wouldn't like anyone to blame the Ballard family in any way for what happened. He acted alone and he is paying for it. As far as I'm concerned it is still not long enough for what he done to my daughter.
"It was a brutal, brutal attack.
"He left the scene twice and came back and admitted today that he danced on her head; his own words. Left again and came back and did it again. So a life sentence to me is not enough.
"There are no winners in a case like this. Even Ballard as much as I hate him, he has lost, we have lost, his family have lost; there are no winners. “How can there be a winner in a situation like this? Everyone's lives are devastated. Her two girls are left behind. Sharon was a good girl, she had an unfortunate end but she was a loving daughter and a loving mother and we loved her to bits and our lives are devastated and so are a lot of others". Defence counsel Mark Nicholas SC, for Ballard, told a jury of seven men and five women on the opening day of the trial last Tuesday that his client admitted his actions caused the death of his partner and accepted that her killing was unlawful.
At today's sentencing hearing, Detective Garda Noelle Bergin detailed the background to the incident.
She told prosecution counsel Dominic McGinn SC that Ms Bennett died on February 10, 2021 having been assaulted by Bennett two weeks earlier on January 28.
Outlining the events that led up to the murder, Mr McGinn said that both Ms Bennett and Ballard had been living in temporary accommodation in Ennis and were habitually drinking in the centre of Ennis on the afternoon of January 28.
At the time of "the violence" the pair had consumed a considerable amount of alcohol, added the detective. At one point, there was a "clear disagreement" between the accused and Ms Bennett, which resulted in the mother-of-two kicking or "striking" Ballard in the face. Ms Bennett, Ballard and a third man Hussein 'Jamesie' Abdullah left the car park area to enter a public toilet as it was warmer. The three people were drinking and chatting in the toilet for about 20 minutes.
The detective said that Ballard then attacked Ms Bennett violently by stamping on her head, which was witnessed by a number of members of the public.
The court heard that this incident took place during the Covid-19 lockdown so the streets weren't as busy as they might usually have been.
A motorist who was driving past the scene described seeing Ballard aggressively "stamping" on something four or five times with his foot.
The man, who sounded his horn and started shouting at Ballard, initially thought that the accused was stamping on a mattress as he had heard a loud noise. A delivery driver who had just picked up a delivery from a nearby outlet said he heard five bangs, one repeatedly after another, before it stopped and then started again.
"He looked towards the toilet and saw a man looking like he was kicking a metal object," said the detective.
The man subsequently saw something on the floor of the toilet and realised something serious had happened.
A resident in a house opposite the toilet was trying to charge the battery of his car, when he heard repeated banging.
The man decided to get a better view from the window of his upstairs premises and saw a girl on the ground of the toilet with a "skinny fella" stamping on her head.
The man told gardai that it went on for up to three minutes, that he saw Ballard stamp at least three times on her head and shout: "Are you happy now, you won't do that again".
The man's flatmate told gardai that what had happened to Ms Bennett was "very aggressive" and that Ballard had drawn "at least 20 kicks" each time he went over to the toilet. The men contacted the emergency services.
An off-duty guard, who was passing the scene, found Ms Bennett in a critical condition and called an ambulance. There was a mark on the left side of Ms Bennett's face which looked like a boot mark and a footprint mark on the right side of her head.
Ms Bennett was taken to hospital in Limerick but never regained consciousness and passed away on February 10. A post mortem carried out revealed that the cause of death was traumatic head injuries.
When Ballard returned to his accommodation at Ashford Court Hotel, he met the manager who was a member of the Simon Community. Ballard was covered in blood and told the manager that he had done "something bad".
"He said 'I think I killed Sharon'," said the detective.
Ballard also told the manager that the assault had happened in a public toilet near the car park, that he had hurt Sharon badly and that he kept pointing to his shoes.
The manager could not see anything on the accused's shoes but assumed that he must have used his feet in the attack on the deceased.
Ballard was later arrested and cautioned. When gardai searched the defendant to ensure he was carrying no weapons, they noticed a strong smell of alcohol from him and that he was upset. Ballard said to gardai: "I danced on her head".
The accused was not deemed fit to be interviewed until the morning of January 25. In his two interviews, Ballard accepted that he had attacked Ms Bennett and gave an account of how she had attacked him first in the public toilet and that he had lost control.
He was formally charged with assault causing harm. Blood found on Ballard's shoes matched the deceased's DNA. After Ms Bennett passed away on February 10, the accused was re-arrested on March 24 and charged with murder.
Under cross-examination, the detective agreed with defence counsel Mark Nicholas SC that his client had significant drink and drugs issues and that he was well known to gardai. Ballard also has speech difficulties and a slight intellectual and hearing impairment.
Mr Nicholas said that Ballard accepted he had badly assaulted Ms Bennett from the outset and repeatedly admitted he had "lost it", "couldn't stop himself" and had "went too far" in his interviews.
"It only required two interviews such was the candour of the interviews,' added counsel.
The barrister added: "He never denied assaulting her, always admitted that he danced on her head and went too far".
In re-examination, the detective confirmed to Dominic McGinn SC, prosecuting, that apart from Ballard's assertions in his interviews, there was no evidence that Ms Bennett had used violence against him in the toilet.
In his submissions, Mr Nicholas said that this was a "very sad case" where a life had been lost violently and needlessly.
He said there were never admissions in his client's interviews other than he did wrong and that he had never denied responsibility for the attack.
"He said he snapped, he lost it and is ashamed. Ms Bennett was a blameless woman in all of this," he said.
Referring to Ms Bennett, Mr Nicholas said she had her own understandable difficulties in her life at the time and Ballard told gardai that the deceased had struck him with a coin in the toilet.
"That is not in any way to do any adverse comment on Ms Bennett, she was a wonderful woman by all accounts and that remains the case," he added.
He said his client had led a disordered and chaotic life and accepted responsibility for his actions. Furthermore, he said Ballard regretted his actions which "were sodden in drink" and had taken Ms Bennett away from her own children and family.
Mr Nicholas said his client reiterated his apology "for this awful situation he has brought to bear" on the Bennett family. His life has also been one of homelessness and sheltered accommodation, he concluded.
Before sentencing the defendant, Mr Justice Burns said that this had been a "terrible ordeal" for the Bennett family and that Ms Bennett had two daughters whom she loved deeply.
The judge added: "She was involved in a relationship with the accused for a couple of months. As a result of the attack she lost her life and her two children lost their mother and won't have her there when they need or want her".
Referring to the Covid-19 restrictions, the judge said that the Bennett family had gone through a particularly upsetting and difficult ordeal.
Mr Justice Burns finally extended his condolences to the Bennett family.
The deceased's father PJ Bennett began his statement, which was read to the court by prosecution counsel Mr McGinn, by saying that Sharon was their first born child and that she was a "happy go lucky girl" growing up.
Mr Bennett described her as a loving daughter and mother, who was very decent and kind.
He continued: "Sharon and her brother Tom did everything together growing up; you would never see one without the other".
He said Sharon was loved by her little sister Sinead and that they had spent a lot of time together on horses when they were young.
Mr Bennett said Sharon was a loving mother to her now 10-year-old and eight-year-old daughters.
The court heard that one of her daughters had made their Communion this year and that she was the only one without a mother there.
"Her oldest daughter visited her mum's grave and said she wanted to die and go to heaven with her mum. Our lives have been devastated since we got that phone call.
" It's like a nightmare that we can't wake up from. I'm sorry I let her down and didn't protect her enough. Our lives will never be the same without Sharon in it."
"We couldn't have a proper funeral due to Covid.
"We were not allowed to see her in intensive care for the first five days due to Covid and had to talk to her through video calls. Even though Patrick Ballard murdered our daughter we were left with the task of turning off her machine and watch her slip away. Our lives will never be the same again".
At the close of her statement, Mr Bennett said: "I would like to say that I don't blame the Ballard family for what happened to my daughter. I blame Patrick Ballard only; we have all lost here today".