25 January 2006

Victim’s mother vows to appeal four-year sentence

Irish Examiner

By Liam Heylin
25 January 2006

THE packed courtroom of the Central Criminal Court in Ennis was taken completely by surprise when Majella Holohan, the victim’s mother, departed from her prepared victim impact statement to describe semen found on her 11-year-old son’s body, before the killer was sentenced.

Mr Justice Paul Carney yesterday sentenced 21-year-old Wayne O’Donoghue to four years in prison. This sentence was backdated to January 16, 2005 when the defendant went into custody.

Before he made his judgement, Mr Justice Carney told Ms Holohan: “I want to prepare you for the fact that the sentence I am going to impose is going to upset you.”

He said he would try to explain how he arrived at the sentence he handed down.

“I want to say unequivocally at the outset that I am dealing with a manslaughter and not a cover-up. The evidence suggests to me the injuries were at the horseplay end of the scale. After the death, the cover-up was appalling.

“There can be no excusing what was done. There can be no mitigating what was done. The cover-up caused incredible grief and distress to the Holohan family,” the judge said.

He said that the State could have brought substantive charges arising out of the cover-up but had not done so. The judge took account of O’Donoghue’s previous good character and the continuing support of his girlfriend, Rebecca Dennehy.

Addressing the courtroom before the sentence, Majella Holohan said: “Our doctors told us to try to get on with our lives. How can we, knowing there was semen found on my son’s body? Would you kill someone for throwing stones at your car? The forensics couldn’t find stone marks on the car.

“If it was an accident, why didn’t Wayne call me, a doctor or his parents or someone? Why were there no fingerprints found on Rob’s phone, even Rob’s own fingerprints? Who wiped it clean and deleted images?

“Wayne contacted him at 6am in the morning? Why did a 20-year-old contact an 11-year-old at that hour of the morning?

"What was Robert doing at Wayne’s bedroom at 7.30am when he was supposed to be at a sleepover at his other friend’s house? Why did my little boy ring 999 later that morning as the phone shows he did?

“Why were Rob’s two runners off when he was supposed to cycle away that day? Whatever happens here today, even if we left our house, left the country, there is no place to go, no place to hide from this nightmare. It is there every minute of every hour of every day.”

She said an awful lot of pain could have been avoided if Wayne O’Donoghue had made an anonymous phone call.

She recalled a day during the search when she told O’Donoghue he was doing too much with all the help he was giving.

“I still can’t believe how he was able to face me that day in my own kitchen, so bare-faced, when he knew he killed my poor boy and dumped his body in black bin liners in a ditch at Inch,” Ms Holohan said.

She said it was a miracle that their beautiful son was found at all as his body was dumped in a wilderness. By the time the family got the body, after eight days exposed to the elements and the subsequent post-mortem examination, the remains were returned in a sealed white coffin.

“All we got was a lock of Rob’s hair,” she said.

Later she added, in relation to the dumping of the body: “You wouldn’t do it to a dog.”

She said Robert’s brother Harry, five, and sister Emma, nine, still cried about what had happened and could not believe that Robert had been killed by his friend, Wayne. She said that telling them was one of the most horrible experiences of her life.

After this, Blaise O’Carroll SC, for the defence, said: “My client has been blackened and traduced in a way that we are incapable of defending. We feel our position has been subverted. It would be inappropriate to call any evidence.”

Mr Justice Carney then stressed that a sentencing judge was not concerned with retaliation or revenge and that the case was not a contest between the family of the deceased and the accused, but between the State and the accused.

“I have to concern myself with providing the infrastructure for the reconstruction of Wayne’s young life and his re-integration into society as a useful member of it. I take account, of course, of the effect of the crime on the Holohan family. I take account of the accused being of previous good character.

“It would be my expectation that he would not reoffend, particularly having regard to the evidence I heard in the trial, although Mr O’Carroll is refusing to offer me any evidence today of the continuing and ongoing support of his girlfriend Rebecca.

"I take account of the fact that at all times he pleaded guilty to what he was ultimately convicted of,” he said.

Yesterday was the first time in a criminal case that a judge has posted his comments on a website.

Apart from Ms Holohan, the only other witness heard yesterday was Supt Liam Hayes who summarised the events of Robert’s disappearance last year. He outlined:

The fatal confrontation on January 4 last year when O’Donoghue said the boy threw stones at his car.

The death of Robert when O’Donoghue grabbed him round the neck.

The dumping of his body in black plastic bags near Inch strand.

The massive civilian search effort.

O’Donoghue’s confession on January 16, one day after Robert’s funeral.

At the outset of the 10-day trial which followed, O’Donoghue pleaded guilty to manslaughter but denied murder. The jury found him not guilty of murder and guilty of manslaughter by a unanimous verdict.

Yesterday, as soon as Mr Justice Carney left Courtroom Two in Ennis, Ms Holohan said: “We are appealing it.”

Afterwards, as Mr and Ms Holohan left the courthouse, Ms Holohan stopped to say: “I would like to thank the searchers who brought our little boy back to us.

"I hope you respect our privacy to grieve for poor old Rob. We will never forget him. I would like to thank ye in the searching for Rob. Otherwise he would still be lying in a ditch in Inch.”

Asked about Ms Holohan’s description of semen found on the body of her son, defence solicitor Frank Buttimer denied any impropriety on the part of O’Donoghue.

With yesterday’s four-year sentence back-dated one year and another year’s remission anticipated from the prison authorities, O’Donoghue could be out of jail by the end of 2007.

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