Friday, December 18, 2009

Judge rejects character reference by parish priest

CHARACTER evidence by a local priest on behalf of a 35-year-old convicted sex offender was dismissed by presiding Judge Donagh McDonagh at the Circuit Criminal Court, in Tralee, yesterday.

The judge’s hard-hitting comments emerged at a sentencing hearing which was marked by highly emotional and unusual scenes.

As the accused, Danny Foley, sat in the dock before the judge came onto the bench, upwards of 50 people, mostly men, neighbours and friends, walked up to him in single file.

They shook hands with Foley and embraced him.

At the end of the hearing when the judge pronounced sentence, the mother of the accused had to be removed by gardaí from the courtroom after becoming hysterical.

During the hearing Fr Sean Sheehy, parish priest of Castlegregory, Co Kerry, (pictured) who knew the accused since he was a teenager, said Foley had always struck him as having the highest respect for women and there wasn’t an abusive bone in his body.

However, Judge McDonagh said Foley’s conduct in a town centre car park, in Listowel, in the early hours of June 15, 2008, "clearly gives the lie to these two statements".

Foley, a bouncer from Meen, Listowel, was given a seven-year jail sentence, with the last two years suspended, for sexually assaulting a 24-year-old woman.

Two weeks ago, a jury of 10 men and two women unanimously found Foley guilty after a three-day trial.

During the trial the jury heard how gardaí found the woman semi-conscious and naked from the waist down, with the man crouching over her, alongside a waste skip. She had bruises and injuries all over her body, the trial heard. They had met earlier in a Listowel nightclub.

After passing sentence Judge McDonagh described the woman’s victim impact statement as one of "remarkable dignity".

He also said the convicted man’s "revolting" assertions, the language he used to describe his victim, and an allegation she had asked for sex, was designed to add insult to injury and to demean and denigrate her further in the eyes of the jury and the public.

Foley had lied about several things and there was something particularly odious about the allegation that they had engaged in oral sex, the judge said.

Judge McDonagh said he believed the woman and it was also quite clear the jury did not accept the assertions made by the accused.

Foley, who had been celebrating his 34th birthday on the night, had denied sexually assaulting her after he bought drink for her at the nightclub.

He claimed at first to gardaí he had "found your wan" and did not know her when he was relieving himself alongside a skip in the centre town carpark. He also claimed their sexual encounter was consensual.

The accused rejected a suggestion by prosecuting counsel Tom Rice he had "intentions" as the woman was the worse for the drink on the occasion.

Dermot O’Mahony, owner of Jumbo’s takeaway food outlet, in Listowel, said the accused had worked for him for 10 years and was "polite, inoffensive and calm in dealing with people". The witness also said he was honest, reliable and trustworthy and did not attract hostility.

In his character evidence, Fr Sheehy said Foley was the kind of person he would trust with his life.

Barrister Patrick Wymes, for Foley, pleading for leniency, said the accused had no previous convictions, was engaged to be married and was looking after very ill parents. He also submitted the offence was at the lower end of the sexual assault scale.

However, Judge McDonagh said it was at the middle to upper end and he also noted that, surprisingly in the plea for mitigation, little or no remorse had been shown or no apology offered to the victim.

He sentenced Foley to seven years, suspending the final two, and ordered he be placed on the sex offenders register for life. Leave to appeal was refused.
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