‘I will never understand why anyone would want to hurt him’ – Mum of murdered man

‘I will never understand why anyone would want to hurt him’ – Mum of murdered man

By Eoin Reynolds

THE mother of a man shot to death in the front garden of his home by a teenager has said she will never understand why her "gentle giant" of a son was murdered.

Doris O'Neill made a statement during the sentencing hearing for Warren Nolan (22) who was aged 18 when he shot Alan O'Neill (35) at Kiltalown Road in Tallaght on May 27, 2015 in an attack that was planned over several days.

Dublin Criminal Courts of Justice 2 October 2016

Nolan was found guilty of Mr O'Neill's murder by a majority jury verdict in December. He was also found guilty by a unanimous verdict of setting fire to the car he used in the "hit".

Justice Paul McDermott on Monday sentenced Nolan to the mandatory term of life imprisonment for murder and six years for setting the car on fire.

Both sentences were backdated to September 2017.

Before sentencing Ms O’Neill told the court that losing her son the way she did was “too horrific, so traumatising, so devastating, so unbearable and so unforgettable.”

Her family, she said, fell apart and were made shells of themselves by their sadness, pain, depression, anxiety and grief.

Alan, she said, was her first born and helped her to bring up his siblings.

She added: “He was always there for family, a shoulder to cry on, a hug, advice, chat even for hours if needed. We were all close knit, happy, lucky and blessed to have each other.”

He was artistic and creative, she said, and loved doing charity events and helping to feed the homeless. He loved music and dance and was known to his friends and family as a gentle giant.

She added: “I will never understand why anyone would want to hurt him, and maybe I will never know. Heaven has gained an earth angel that gained his wings. We will forever be heartbroken.”

Mr O’Neill’s step daughter Chantelle Usher said the shooting happened ten days before she began her Leaving Certificate exams.

She said: “The hardest thing I had to do was to leave the funeral home and sit my exams when all I wanted was to spend every moment available saying my goodbyes.

“But I felt I owed it to Alan as he spent the last year of his life dropping and collecting me from grinds, helping me study and ensuring I got all the rest and good food I needed in the lead up to my orals and exams.”

Her step dad’s priority had always been to “love and protect us”, she said. He made them feel safe and knew them better than they knew themselves.

She added: “He knew when we needed a hug before we knew ourselves and he was well able to deal with anything we threw his way.”

Michael Bowman SC, counsel for Nolan, said his client had a difficult background having seen his mother die from an asthma attack as a young child.

He was brought up by his grandmother who Mr Bowman said is the only positive influence in his life. He had become a drug user, taking cannabis and tablets and is in the low range of intellectual ability.

Detective Garda Conor Harrison told the court that Nolan has 24 previous convictions including one for possession of a firearm in suspicious circumstances for which he was sentenced to five years imprisonment in June 2015, two weeks after Mr O’Neill’s murder.

Det Gda Harrison said the firearms offence related to an incident in which a gun was pointed at a member of An Garda Siochana. The gun was subsequently found to contain no ammunition, he said.

In sentencing Nolan for setting the car on fire Justice McDermott said an appropriate sentence would be between seven and ten years but taking into account his young age and other mitigating factors he sentenced him to six years.

Michelle Usher gave evidence that she was in her living room when she saw her partner, the deceased, park his car on the driveway at about 10pm on May 27, 2015.

When Ms Usher saw a people carrier pull up behind she leaned closer to the window as she thought it “peculiar”. Then a “dark figure” came into the garden.

He looked like a “young fella” and so when she heard two “really loud bangs” she thought it was a joke until, as she opened the door, she heard another bang, saw a blue flash and a black gun in the dark figure’s hand followed by Mr O’Neill screaming out in pain.

Ms Usher caught hold of Mr O’Neill and brought him in the doorway to the living room while another shot smashed the window of the hall door.

She said: “Everything happened so quickly and I just didn’t believe what was going on.”

She saw the figure with the gun run out of the garden and get back in the people carrier which then “took off”.

By his posture and movements she thought he was a “young boy” or a “teenager” but she didn’t see his face.

Nolan was arrested within minutes of the shooting. The alert had just gone over garda radio when Detective Garda Conor Harrison and a colleague pulled over a car that they believed to be suspicious at nearby Belfry Manor.

Det Gda Harrison then heard another car revving hard and coming at speed. When he saw a youth pull up his hoodie and “move with purpose” away from him he decided to take a closer look and around the same time became aware of a car that had been set on fire about 100 metres away.

As this was unfolding Nolan arrived “like he had been shot out of a cannon,” and almost ran into the detective.

Det Gda Harrison said he immediately formed the suspicion that Nolan had come from the burning car which had come from the shooting in Kiltalown Road. He brought Nolan to the ground and as he did so, he said he noticed a lighter fall from the suspect’s gloved hand.

The detective later recorded in his notebook that Nolan called out: “I only set the car on fire, I only set the car on fire.”

Nolan was arrested and taken to Tallaght Garda Station where, during a series of interviews, he denied any knowledge of Mr O’Neill’s murder and said he was in Tallaght visiting his aunt and hanging around with friends.

He couldn’t remember where he had been or where any of his friends lived. He also denied that he was there to meet the driver of the suspicious car – the alleged getaway car – that had been stopped by Det Gda Harrison and his colleague.

State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy told the trial that Mr O’Neill died from a bullet wound that went through his forearm and into his side, damaging the body’s main blood vessel and puncturing the liver.

Another bullet entered the right thigh but did not damage any major structures. From the trajectory of the wounds she said it is likely that he was already on the ground when he received the wound to his leg.

Forensic scientist Dr Tom Hannigan examined gloves that were confiscated from Nolan and found firearms residue on one of them.

Dr Barbara Buchanan found evidence of petrol on the t-shirt, runners and tracksuit bottoms worn by Nolan when he was arrested and on the gloves.

CCTV evidence also showed the Mazda people carrier burned out by Nolan “stalking” Mr O’Neill in the hours leading up to the shooting. The car had been stolen two weeks previously, the court heard.

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