By CAROL BYRNE
A 67 year-old man cycled 30miles with all his belongings in the dead of night to a nursing home in Ennis to take up residence after being subjected to two robberies at his rural West Clare home, Ennis Circuit Criminal Court has heard.
The details emerged at the sentencing hearing of Noel Garry, (20), of Cooraclare; Shane Donnellan, also 20 years of age of Clohanbeg, Cree and Joseph Lernihan, (21) of Finnemore Park, Mullagh on Monday.
They all pleaded guilty to robbing €3,000 from the man at his rural home in West Clare on February 25, 2012.
Joseph Lernihan also admitted a further charge of robbery of €4,000 from the same man days earlier on February 21, 2012.
Detective Garda Donal Corkery said the victim is 68 now and resided alone in a rural isolated location.
“The nearest village was two miles away. At 10pm on February 21, 2012, he was at home and heard banging at the front of his house. On hearing this noise he observed three electric torches outside his house. He lived in a small premises, with no ESB and no running water. He discovered that three of his windows were broken. He observed three people outside. They shouted at him, demanding money. He was very frightened,” Detective Corkery recalled.
He said the injured party told them through the broken windows he would give them €500 but they wanted more.
“They threatened to come in and search the house unless he would give them more. On the night of February 21 he handed them three jars. One contained €500, a second approximately €1,000. They then demanded more and he gave another jar roughly containing €3,000. In total a little more than €4,000 was handed out. That would have been all the money he had,” Detective Corkery outlined.
The injured party was again threatened and told “no gardaí and we won’t be back and we won’t get mad”.
“As a consequence, the man felt weak and fearful. He didn’t do anything about it. On February 22 he went to his bank and withdrew €3,000 from his account and returned to his house. He repaired the broken windows using blocks and turf to block off the windows. He attends the bank two or three times a year. He would withdraw approximately €3,000 and live off that money until it would run out,” Detective Corkery added.
Outlining the details of the second charge, which all three accused pleaded guilty to, Detective Corkery told the court that at 9pm on February 25 the victim was at home when he heard blocks being removed from the window sills.
“He saw that a pipe was being pointed into the house. It would have been a rung of a gate about two feet in length. This was made to resemble a weapon. He was told it was a gun and if he left the room he was in, he would be shot,” he outlined.
On this occasion Detective Corkery said there were four people outside. One person brought the man to the rear of the house and the others went inside. They searched the house and before the man was later brought back into his house.
“They requested his assistance to locate the money. They found a small amount. This was in a jar again. They asked for the rest of the hidden money. He was ordered to get the rest of the money and he did that,” Detective Corkery said.
The thieves then demanded his bank book and when they saw he had a substantial amount of money in his account they told him to go to the bank and withdraw €50,000 the following Monday.
“They told him if he contacted the gardaí they would burn the house. He gathered his belongings at 1am and cycled to Ennis, a distance of about 30 miles. He presented himself to a nursing home in Ennis. When he got there, he was the cause of some concern. He was asked what motivated him, and he disclosed what had happened to him,” Detective Corkery said.
He made a statement to gardaí outlining what had taken place.
“On the second occasion one of the men said ‘you f****** b****** you must have a gun, I’ll shoot you if you go into the other room’. He was told the pipe in the window was a gun,” Detective Corkery said.
On the back of the statement made by the man a major operation was put into place as it was believed the culprits might return on the Monday night as they had threatened to do. Gardaí conducted surveillance, they did not return but the garda investigation established a number of suspects which resulted in arrests.
The court heard that on March 2, 2012 Shane Donnellan presented himself at Kilrush Garda Station and voluntarily made full admissions as to his part in the incident on February 25.
Noel Garry and Joseph Lernihan were arrested three days later. Following subsequent detention and questioning Noel Garry admitted his involvement in the February 25 incident while Joseph Lernihan admitted his involvement on both nights.
The court was told roughly €7,000 to €8,000 was stolen from the pensioner and it is believed Joseph Lernihan used some of the money to purchase a car in Donegal.
Detective Corkery said the injured party declined to address the court adding that although he is in “good health”, “he is fearful and will never return home again”.
“We believe an associate of those before the courts, a juvenile, who would look up to these youths, informed them this man had to be wealthy. He said the man had no ESB and from his own conclusions had to have money. He identified the house to Shane Donnellan and Noel Garry. There were also others involved in this. We believe three to four were involved on first occasion and four on the second occasion.
“I would believe that both Shane Donnellan and Joseph Lernihan’s involvement would have been at the lower end, and Noel Garry would be higher up. We cannot say for certain who had the pipe ,” Detective Corkery said.
He added that Joseph Lernihan admitted in interviews that he made threats.
Defence counsel for Joseph Lernihan, Lorcan Connolly BL, said his client’s “admissions were of cardinal importance”. Detective Corkery accepted that “without them there may have been no case”.
He said his client told gardaí “I was stuck for money, my girlfriend is pregnant, I’ve no job, and no money. When the man put out the three jars I gave him back €150 and said ‘sorry’”. He also told gardaí “I shouldn’t have gone near it, I blame myself”.
Mr Connolly said his client wrote a letter of apology to the gardaí and the injured party and had distanced himself from the people before the court.
Pat Whyms, BL, counsel for Shane Donnellan, said his client was on the lower end of culpability and came to the garda station to make a voluntary statement. He said his client told gardaí “I’m very sorry for what I have done. I am so sorry for what I put that man through. I will pay back the money. I will never do that again”.
Counsel for Noel Garry, Ross Ó Drisceoil BL, said his client had a difficult school background and had a drink problem at the time. He said he has not been drinking since this offence.
Detective Corkery commented, “The principle mover was arrested but there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him”.
Stephen Coughlan, BL, prosecuting told the court the maximum sentence it could impose was life.
Judge Moran adjourned sentence to March 3 as probation reports were due before the court in respect of all three accused.