'This will haunt us forever' – rugby player guilty of manslaughter of father-of-five in one-punch attack gets suspended sentence

A YOUNG rugby player wept as he was handed a three year suspended prison sentence for the manslaughter of a father of five in a one-punch attack in a Cork pub.

Jonathan O’Sullivan (29) was told by Judge Sean O’Donnabhain that it was the suddenness rather than the preparedness or viciousness of the blow that he struck the unsuspecting Finbarr Lehane (65) which resulted in such “an awful tragedy.”

In a harrowing victim impact statement, Mr Lehane’s daughter, Catherine, said her family will be haunted by unanswered questions about what happened that night to a man she said was “not violent and not aggressive” and who was totally devoted to his family and community.

The young woman broke down as she told the court she was 10 weeks pregnant at the time her father suffered his fatal injury – and she broke the news of his impending new grandchild to him as he lay in a coma at Cork University Hospital (CUH).

“We would never want any other family to go through what we have endured over the past two and a half years,” she said.

“We will be tormented by unanswered questions for the rest of our lives. It has taken its toll on us as a family and as individuals.”

“I was ten weeks pregnant on the day of the accident. We had not told anyone. I had to tell my Dad he had another grandchild on the way as he lay in a coma at CUH.”

She said her father was a very sociable man who loved his family and his community.

“He was not a violent or aggressive man. Our Dad was a fun loving character who took each day as it came,” she said.

“This will haunt us forever. The road to justice has been a long, painful and heartbreaking journey in which there are no winners and in our case no answers.”

The Lehane family claimed they felt no remorse had been shown by O’Sullivan – though they accepted that other families were also victims in the tragedy and had also suffered.

But Judge O’Donnabhain said he felt O’Sullivan’s remorse was genuine.

The young man had wept in a Garda interview just days after he struck Mr Lehane – and he broke down at the conclusion of the trial.

O’Sullivan wept as the sentence was being imposed and, the court was told, had earlier offered to meet in person with the Lehane family to express his remorse.

“The tragedy for the (Lehane) family is irreparable,” the judge said.

“The verdict rather than the sentence is the important thing.”

“The suddenness rather than the seriousness of the blow caused the ultimate tumbling-over and the injury.”

The judge said there was no preparedness involved in the blow or any aggravating viciousness.

“(Mr Lehane) was completely unprepared – there was no lead up other than the words spoken. It meant that when Mr Lehane was struck he was completely unawares.”

Judge O’Donnabhain imposed a three year sentence which he entirely suspended.

O’Sullivan, a talented rugby player, is a single man who works as a building services engineer in Kildare.

He has no previous convictions.

The Lehane family sobbed as the sentence was confirmed.

O’Sullivan was convicted by a Cork Circuit Criminal Court jury last month of the manslaughter of musician and father of five Finbarr Lehane.

While O’Sullivan acknowledged he punched Mr Lehane a single time in a north Cork pub, he denied his unlawful killing.

O’Sullivan was convicted by the jury of nine men and three women on an 11-1 majority decision of the manslaughter of Mr Lehane after three hours and 41 minutes of deliberations.

The pensioner suffered a critical injury at The Stand Bar in Kanturk on October 23/24 2016.

Mr Lehane died 14 days later in a Cork hospital on November 7.

O’Sullivan of Birchfield Park, Goatstown, Dublin – but who is originally from Kanturk – told the jury he was guilty of assault but not guilty of Mr Lehane’s manslaughter.

Imelda Kelly BL, for the State, said that both men were socialising in the pub that evening.

Both men had consumed a significant quantity of alcohol.

Ms Kelly said that “alcohol is certainly a feature of this case.”

The State said a single punch was thrown which was so sudden many of those in the pub didn’t witness it.

Mr Lehane immediately fell backwards and struck the back of his head on the ground.

He immediately lost consciousness.

One bar worker, Liz Angland, told Gardaí that Mr Lehane hit the floor with “an unmerciful crack.”

The defendant told Gardaí that the deceased had been “talking shite” to him.

“I don’t know what happened,” O’Sullivan told investigating Gardaí.

“I decided to out the back (of the pub). I just drew a punch.”

Defence counsel Mary Rose Gearty SC pointed out that the defendant, when being interviewed by Gardaí, was very upset and crying throughout the interview session.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster confirmed to the trial that there was no discernible mark to the deceased’s face on examination such as would have been inflicted by a punch.

Dr Bolster said the cause of death in Mr Lehane’s case was quite complicated.

Mr Lehane was well known in the north Cork area as a musician, playing both the harmonica and spoons.

He lived at Glen South, Banteer with his wife.

The deceased has five adult children.

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