DPP v Kierans
 IECCC 1
THE CENTRAL CRIMINAL COURT
Ms. Justice Donnelly
Sentencing – Manslaughter through gross negligence – Possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life – Applicant seeking sentencing of the respondent – Whether offences fell within the upper range
Tragedy is the word that the children of the deceased woman, Patricia Kierans, and the defendant Oliver Kierans, have used to describe the death of their mother. It is tragic that the defendant caused the death of Patricia Kierans, who at 54 years of age had commenced a new life and a new relationship after 33 years of marriage to the defendant. It is a tragedy that the children of the late Mrs. Kierans as well as her own birth family have endured the loss of a woman, who, by all accounts was a warm, generous lover of life who liked to socialise through singing and dancing. She was a kind woman who, on the day she was killed, had been due to bring an elderly neighbour to the graveyard, something she regularly did. She took great care of her children, bringing her daughter to Irish dancing competitions where she became an All Ireland champion. She brought her boys to soccer and GAA matches. All four of her children have, in turn, grown up to be hard working people with families of their own.
This tragedy was brought about by the criminal act of the defendant. He was tried on a count of murder and the jury returned a verdict of not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter. It is agreed by the prosecution and the defence, and I also agree that the correct and proper interpretation of that verdict is that it is one of manslaughter through gross negligence. The defendant was also convicted of two offences contrary to the Firearms Acts as amended in relation to events which occurred later on the same day that he had killed his wife. Those occurred at a premises known as the Square Bar, Market Square, Bailieborough, County Cavan. The first was an offence of possession of a sawn-off shotgun in circumstances giving rise to a reasonable inference that he did not have it in his possession for a lawful purpose, contrary to s. 27(a) of the Firearms Act 1964 as substituted by s. 59 of the Criminal Justice Act, 2006 as amended by s. 38 of the Criminal Justice Act, 2007. He was also convicted of an offence of possession of the same sawn-off shotgun with intent to endanger life at the same premises contrary to s. 15 of the Firearms Act, 1925 as substituted by s. 42 of the Criminal Justice Act, 2006.
The circumstances in which those offences were committed are as follows. Oliver and Patricia Kierans had met as teenagers in Bailieborough, County Cavan, they formed a relationship and married when they were both in their early twenties. At the time of the death of Patricia Kierans they had been 33 years married. They had four children, three boys and a girl, three of whom were living in Australia at the date of the unlawful killing. The fourth, Shane, was on route to Australia.
In the spring and early summer of 2013, what has been confirmed as unhappy differences arose in the relationship. In the build up to leaving the family home Patricia Kierans had gone to a neighbour one evening who gave evidence that she was stressed. He went round to the family home where he had a conversation with Mr. Kierans. He outlined to Mr. Kierans that Patricia was upset and concerned for her safety and the concern was aired regarding a firearm legally held by the defendant. Mr. Kierans laughed that off as being incorrect and said that he had simply been cleaning his gun. Both that witness and another witness on a separate occasion had been brought into the house by Mrs. Kierans and shown the shotgun underneath the mattress.
Mr. Kierans was a licence holder of two firearms, a rifle and a shotgun. He used the guns for hunting purposes. The firearm involved in this case was a double barrel shotgun. At some point in the run up to the day that Patricia Kierans was killed the firearm was modified by Mr. Kierans. He shortened the barrels of the shotgun by sawing them off and also sawed off the stock of the firearm. In effect, it became what is known as a sawn-off shotgun. That action on the part of Mr. Kierans clearly took him outside the terms of his licence as it is not permitted in law to own or possess a sawn-off shotgun.
Mrs. Kierans moved out of the family home and went to reside with her sister who lived in Cavan town. She spent the summer months living there with her sister, Mairead. Mr. Kierans initially appeared to take stock of matters. He was a man who consumed fairly substantial quantities of alcohol on a daily basis. However, he effectively went on the dry for the summer.
Mr. Kierans frequented a local bar called the Square Bar in Bailieborough. This was owned by a Philip Clarke who was also known as Nixy Clarke. He knew both Mr. and Mrs. Kierans. Mr. Kierans worked on an ad hoc basis in the bar getting it ready for functions and getting stock up and down and cleaning the place. Mrs. Kierans also did some part-time work there and at least one of the children also worked there part-time when at school or college.
Mrs. Kierans did not have contact with Oliver Kierans over the summer. She began a new relationship to such an extent that when she was released from hospital the day before she was killed it was to this man she turned.
Mr. Kierans became aware of this new relationship at the very end of August or indeed about the 1st of September. He appeared to go back on the drink with a vengeance from the Sunday preceding the 5th of September, 2013. He thereafter sent a number of text messages proved in evidence asking her to reconsider the relationship. He received a text in reply in which Patricia Kierans said unequivocally that the relationship was over and that she did not want further contact from him.
The 5th of September was a Thursday and on that occasion both Patricia Kierans and Oliver Kierans collected their social welfare payments in Bailieborough. Mr. Kierans had worked quite late into the night at the bar and there is footage of him working and drinking pints of Guinness into the early hours of the morning. At about half past seven he went to a shop in the town which was also an off licence and bought two naggins of whiskey. There was evidence that Oliver Kierans had driven the car he had borrowed from his sister into the car park at Thomas Street where it remained at the top right hand section of that car park. That position gave him a line of sight of Patricia Kierans car which she had parked there earlier.
When she entered the car park on foot, it appears that Oliver Kierans drove diagonally across from where he was to where Patricia Kierans' car was parked. He left his car in a haphazard state described by some witnesses as abandoned. The car was not locked by him. The owner of the local restaurant gave evidence of seeing Mr. Kierans carrying a metal object as he approached Mrs. Kierans. Mrs. Kierans got into her car on the driver side and Mr. Kierans got in on the passenger side and they were seen driving out of the car park and making the journey the short distance to the family home. They parked around the back of the family home and there were a number of workers in a community centre having a tea break when one of them saw Mrs. Kierans walking ahead of Mr. Kierans through the shed which leads into the back garden of the house. That witness described that she thought Mrs. Kierans had stumbled as she went through the door.
From the information available it appears that they both went into the house and upstairs to the back bedroom of the house. According to Mr. Kierans, his wife went up there to reclaim some clothes which belonged to her brother. From the evidence of Mr. Kierans that he gave at the trial and which appears by virtue of the nature of the verdict to have been accepted by the jury, the gun which had been concealed under the mattress was now visible on the bed. Mr. Kierans gave evidence that he formed an intention to commit suicide, this was because he had a perception that his denials to his wife Patricia about an alleged affair with a woman who was the partner of Philip Nixy Clarke were not being believed by her. He referred to and thought of this woman as ‘the ghost.’ Evidence was adduced during the course of the trial that Mrs. Kierans was of the view that there was a connection between her husband and this woman and that this was not correct.
The evidence of Mr. Kierans which forms the basis of the verdict of manslaughter was to the effect that he picked up the firearm with the intention of taking his own life, to demonstrate comprehensively the lack of truth of the allegation of the affair. The firearm discharged in the direction of Patricia Kierans, who was a very short distance away and entered through her left...
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