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Life sentence was passed on Patrick Ballard at the Central Criminal Court.

Ballard was covered in blood and said, ‘I think I killed Sharon’

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AT THE sentencing hearing last Friday of Patrick Ballard for the murder of Sharon Bennett in Ennis in early 2021, Detective Garda Noelle Bergin detailed the background to the incident.

She told prosecution counsel Dominic McGinn SC that Ms Bennett died on February 10, 2021 having been assaulted by Bennett two weeks earlier on January 28.

Outlining the events that led up to the murder, Mr McGinn said that both Ms Bennett and Ballard had been living in temporary accommodation in Ennis and were habitually drinking in the centre of Ennis on the afternoon of January 28.

At the time of “the violence” the pair had consumed a considerable amount of alcohol, added the detective.

At one point, there was a “clear disagreement” between the accused and Ms Bennett, which resulted in the mother-of-two kicking or “striking” Ballard in the face.

Ms Bennett, Ballard and a third man Hussein ‘Jamesie’ Abdullah left the car park area to enter a public toilet as it was warmer.

The three people were drinking and chatting in the toilet for about 20 minutes.

The detective said that Ballard then attacked Ms Bennett violently by stamping on her head, which was witnessed by a number of members of the public.

The court heard that this incident took place during the Covid-19 lockdown so the streets weren’t as busy as they might usually have been.

A motorist who was driving past the scene described seeing Ballard aggressively “stamping” on something four or five times with his foot.

The man, who sounded his horn and started shouting at Ballard, initially thought that the accused was stamping on a mattress as he had heard a loud noise.

A delivery driver who had just picked up a delivery from a nearby outlet said he heard five bangs, one repeatedly after another, before it stopped and then started again.

“He looked towards the toilet and saw a man looking like he was kicking a metal object,” said the detective.

The man subsequently saw something on the floor of the toilet and realised something serious had happened.

A resident in a house opposite the toilet was trying to charge the battery of his car, when he heard repeated banging.

The man decided to get a better view from the window of his upstairs premises and saw a girl on the ground of the toilet with a “skinny fella” stamping on her head.

The man told gardai that it went on for up to three minutes, that he saw Ballard stamp at least three times on her head and shout: “Are you happy now, you won’t do that again.”

The man’s flatmate told gardai that what had happened to Ms Bennett was “very aggressive” and that Ballard had drawn “at least 20 kicks” each time he went over to the toilet. The men contacted the emergency services.

An off-duty guard, who was passing the scene, found Ms Bennett in a critical condition and called an ambulance.

There was a mark on the left side of Ms Bennett’s face which looked like a boot mark and a footprint mark on the right side of her head.

Ms Bennett was taken to hospital in Limerick but never regained consciousness and passed away on February 10. A post mortem carried out revealed that the cause of death was traumatic head injuries.

When Ballard returned to his accommodation at Ashford Court Hotel, he met the manager who was a member of the Simon Community.

Ballard was covered in blood and told the manager that he had done “something bad”.

“He said ‘I think I killed Sharon’,” said the detective.

Ballard also told the manager that the assault had happened in a public toilet near the car park, that he had hurt Sharon badly and that he kept pointing to his shoes.

The manager could not see anything on the accused’s shoes but assumed that he must have used his feet in the attack on the deceased.
Ballard was later arrested and cautioned.

When gardai searched the defendant to ensure he was carrying no weapons, they noticed a strong smell of alcohol from him and that he was upset. Ballard said to gardai: “I danced on her head.”

The accused was not deemed fit to be interviewed until the morning of January 25.

In his two interviews, Ballard accepted that he had attacked Ms Bennett and gave an account of how she had attacked him first in the public toilet and that he had lost control.

He was formally charged with assault causing harm. Blood found on Ballard’s shoes matched the deceased’s DNA.

After Ms Bennett passed away on February 10, the accused was re-arrested on March 24 and charged with murder.

Under cross-examination, the detective agreed with defence counsel Mark Nicholas SC that his client had significant drink and drugs issues and that he was well known to gardai.

Ballard also has speech difficulties and a slight intellectual and hearing impairment. 

Mr Nicholas said that Ballard accepted he had badly assaulted Ms Bennett from the outset and repeatedly admitted he had “lost it”, “couldn’t stop himself” and had “went too far” in his interviews.

“It only required two interviews such was the candour of the interviews,” added counsel. 

The barrister added, “He never denied assaulting her, always admitted that he danced on her head and went too far.”

In re-examination, the detective confirmed to Dominic McGinn SC, prosecuting, that apart from Ballard’s assertions in his interviews, there was no evidence that Ms Bennett had used violence against him in the toilet.  

In his submissions, Mr Nicholas said that this was a “very sad case” where a life had been lost violently and needlessly.

He said there were never admissions in his client’s interviews other than he did wrong and that he had never denied responsibility for the attack.

“He said he snapped, he lost it and is ashamed. Ms Bennett was a blameless woman in all of this,” he said.

Referring to Ms Bennett, Mr Nicholas said she had her own understandable difficulties in her life at the time and Ballard told gardai that the deceased had struck him with a coin in the toilet.

“That is not in any way to do any adverse comment on Ms Bennett, she was a wonderful woman by all accounts and that remains the case,” he added.

He said his client had led a disordered and chaotic life and accepted responsibility for his actions.

Furthermore, he said Ballard regretted his actions which “were sodden in drink” and had taken Ms Bennett away from her own children and family. 

Mr Nicholas said his client reiterated his apology “for this awful situation he has brought to bear” on the Bennett family.

His life has also been one of homelessness and sheltered accommodation, he concluded. 

Before sentencing the defendant, Mr Justice Burns said that this had been a “terrible ordeal” for the Bennett family and that Ms Bennett had two daughters whom she loved deeply. 

The judge added: “She was involved in a relationship with the accused for a couple of months. As a result of the attack she lost her life and her two children lost their mother and won’t have her there when they need or want her.”

Referring to the Covid-19 restrictions, the judge said that the Bennett family had gone through a particularly upsetting and difficult ordeal. 

Mr Justice Burns finally extended his condolences to the Bennett family.

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