A man who “tortured” his daughter using “savage and barbaric acts” of violence because he and his wife thought the girl was possessed by an evil spirit has had his 14-year prison sentence quashed and reduced by one year by the Court of Appeal.
Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy said that the 40-year-old man’s actions were “reprehensible” and “unfathomable” and that his sentence was deserved given that he had engaged in the “physical and mental torture” of his child. But she found that his culpability was “marginally less” than that of his wife who received the same sentence as her husband. The evidence in the trial was that the husband was not present when the then nine-year-old girl suffered a catastrophic brain injury. The trial judge deemed them both equally culpable because the jury had found that they engaged in a joint enterprise.
While Ms Justice Kennedy agreed with the trial judge that the parents were guilty of “barbaric acts on a defenceless child” she disagreed that both were equally culpable. Having quashed the sentence for the father, Ms Justice Kennedy said the appropriate headline sentence should have been 18 years rather than the 20 to 22 years deemed appropriate by the trial judge. Having considered mitigating factors such as the accused’s lack of previous convictions and good work record, she reduced that to 13 years.
Included in the man’s appeal was the claim that the trial judge should have considered as a mitigating factor the fact that he has lost access to his other children as a result of his conviction. Ms Justice Kennedy said “The fact he has lost the society of his other children through his own brutal actions never could be a mitigating factor.”
The man failed in a bid to overturn his conviction last month.
A trial in 2021 and a sentencing hearing in 2022 at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard the couple believed the girl was possessed by an evil spirit and that they inflicted “wanton cruelty” on her as a result.
The then nine-year-old girl was regularly punched, beaten with a belt and a stick, choked, bitten and badly burned all over her body at the hands of her parents, whose other children testified against them at trial.
The girl is now in a care centre and can no longer walk, talk or sit independently having acquired a brain injury as a result of the injuries inflicted on her.
Her 40-year-old father and 38-year-old mother were each convicted by a jury of two counts of assault causing serious harm and three counts of child cruelty at the family home in Dublin on dates between June 28th and July 2nd, 2019.
The couple, who are originally from north Africa, cannot be named to protect the anonymity of the child. They moved to Ireland around 2011 and in March 2019 their eldest daughters, including the victim, moved to Ireland to join them.
The jury heard evidence that at one stage the father told a detective that he carried out a ritual to get the “devil” to leave his child’s body.
Two of the couple’s other children testified that their parents regularly beat the little girl. On one occasion her mother forced her hand onto a hot stove as she screamed in pain, before binding her hands and feet and burning her with a hot knife, the court heard.
The couple have been in custody since August 2019 and their children were all taken into care.
Sentencing the couple to 14 years’ imprisonment each, Judge Martin Nolan said the child will be dependent on carers for the rest of her life as a result of the injuries inflicted upon her.”What they did was savage,” the judge said. “To destroy their child in this way is, to put it at its mildest, grossly reprehensible.”
Judge Nolan said that the evidence that the parents thought their child was possessed by an evil spirit provided “no defence or excuse”.
“It wasn’t the child who was possessed at the time. I think it was the parents,” he said.
He said that although only the child’s mother was present in the home on the day she received the catastrophic brain injury, the jury found both parents guilty on the basis that it was a joint enterprise.
“The court is of the view that this was part of a pattern of what could be termed as pretty savage behaviour by both parents towards their child,” the judge said. He said that both parents were equally culpable.
The Court of Appeal disagreed, stating that the father was “marginally less” culpable.