‘This fella punched Damien into the face twice. I remember Damien falling to the ground and hearing a thud when his head hit the ground. The fella that hit him, hit him in a very aggressive manner.’
A MAN, who was on bail for assault when he punched and killed a talented musician at least twice into the head in an unprovoked attack, was jailed for five years for his manslaughter.
Craig McGrath (25), from Rathfaddan Park in Waterford city, was sentenced on Friday afternoon by Judge Eugene O’Kelly. McGrath pleaded guilty before Waterford Circuit Criminal Court in March to the manslaughter on July 13, 2018 of Damien O’Brien (27) arising from an assault that occurred on July 7, 2018 at the junction of John Street and Manor Street. McGrath, who has 24 previous convictions, was on bail for a charge of assault causing harm to Kiefer Dowling on August 18, 2017 at Shortts, John Street at the time that he punched Mr O’Brien.
Mr O’Brien from Kilmacow, Co Kilkenny sustained a broken eye socket, broken nose and broken jaw as a result of the punches before he fell and was fatally injured when he hit his head off the ground. He was transferred to Cork University Hospital (CUH) in a critical condition before he tragically died on July 13, 2018.
CCTV of both incidents were shown in court. Detective Garda Seamus Halpin of Waterford Garda Station outlined the facts of the case. On the night Mr O’Brien, who had been living with his girlfriend Catherine Smith in the city, had played a gig with his band in the Hub Bar before continuing to socialise with his girlfriend afterwards. They were at the junction of John Street and Manor Street when Catherine met Evan Maloney who was in the company of McGrath. There was some messing about a house party, but it was Catherine’s intention to go home with her boyfriend. In her statement, Catherine said they later walked passed them again and McGrath made a derogatory comment to her. Mr O’Brien had words with McGrath. “A couple of seconds later this fella punched Damien into the face twice. I remember Damien falling to the ground and hearing a thud when his head hit the ground. The fella that hit him, hit him in a very aggressive manner. I don’t remember him saying anything.”
CCTV showed McGrath walking away from the scene on Manor Street with Mr Maloney following. At Railway Square McGrath appeared to shadow box demonstrating his prowess as a boxer. Mr Maloney initially did not give McGrath’s name to Gardaí. He later said that McGrath asked him not to give his name. Mr Maloney said that Mr O’Brien was unconscious before he hit the ground. Two doctors who happened to be in the area treated Mr O’Brien before he was transferred to University Hospital Waterford by ambulance, and then to Cork University Hospital for emergency brain surgery. He underwent more surgery to relieve pressure on the brain. On July 13, 2018 he was pronounced dead. The cause of death was brain stem haemorrhage due to cerebral oedema and traumatic brain injury due to blunt force trauma to the head. It was the brain stem haemorrhage that led to his death. He had been punched twice, first with a right fist and then a left fist in quick succession.
A search warrant was executed and items of McGrath’s clothing and his mobile phone was seized. An analysis of the mobile revealed that McGrath made a number of internet searches following the assault including WLR FM death notices, assault in Waterford and Gardaí investigate serious assault in Waterford. In interview McGrath made no comment only to say that he wasn’t in the footage shown to him by Gardaí.
Victim impact statement
In a poignant and powerful victim impact statement Damien’s sister Sandra Griffin described the devastation of his killing that has torn their family apart. In front of a packed courtroom Sandra Griffin said her brother was a happy, healthy and talented young man who “cherished his family, his friends and his music”. She said that “Damian was the least violent young man you could ever imagine.”
Regarding the assault charge, Kiefer Dowling was in Shortts when McGrath knocked the phone out of his hand and picked it up. Mr Dowling attempted to retrieve his phone. McGrath then headbutted Mr Dowling. After the two of them were ordered off the premises McGrath punched Mr Dowling knocking him unconscious. He was left with a scar.
McGrath was subsequently charged with assault causing harm and granted bail in the district court and was on bail when he fatally assaulted Damien O’Brien.
The defence acknowledged McGrath’s string of previous convictions, but outlined his work history, talent as an artist and his guilty plea in mitigation.
Judge O’Kelly said it appears without any warning to his victim McGrath punched Mr O’Brien twice in the face knocking him instantly to the ground. Judge Kelly said the victim impact statement spoke powerfully of the “grief and terrible sadness” of his death. He said clearly Damien’s adult life was just beginning. He said the grief was aggravated by the “senseless, meaningless manner of his death”. “Such was the violence of the blows and the force behind them that Mr O’Brien suffered complex, depressed and fragmented fractures to his facial bones even before he hit the ground,” said Judge O’Kelly.
Judge O’Kelly imposed a five-year prison sentence for the manslaughter charge, along with a consecutive two and a half years for the assault causing harm charge. He suspended two years for a period of six years, which resulted in a net prison sentence of five and a half years.
There were audible gaps of disbelief from the public gallery as the sentenced was handed down. As the crowds left the room they shouted it was “disgraceful”, “there’s no justice” and “I hope he rots”. Outside the courthouse Minister of State, John Halligan said an innocent man died as a result of an unprovoked assault and he would favour the introduction of legislation to reflect the gravity of one punch assaults.