A teenager who pleaded guilty last year to murdering his friend Glen "Ossie" Osborne has lost an appeal against the severity of his sentence of life imprisonment with a review after ten years.
James Dwyer SC for the 17-year-old, who can't be named because he is a minor, had argued before the three-judge Court of Appeal that the sentencing judge, Mr Justice Paul McDermott, did not give enough consideration to his client's remorse, his early guilty plea and his efforts at rehabilitation. Counsel said that another teenager who was found guilty of a planned and unprovoked murder and who showed no remorse, received the same sentence as his client. Mr Dwyer further submitted that the sentencing judge had placed too much emphasis on aggravating factors, including that the accused brought the knife to the scene.
The teenager pleaded guilty in August last year to the murder of Glen 'Ossie' Osborne (20) at Ballybough House, Ballybough, Dublin on April 15 2020. Mr Osborne's partner Lauren Cray gave birth to their first child two months after his death.
Delivering the judgement of the Court of Appeal on Wednesday, Mr Justice Seamus Woulfe said there was "no error in principle by the sentencing judge." He said the offence was "very serious" and the judge was entitled to find that the bringing of the knife to the scene was a significant aggravating factor, "which meant that this was offending of such seriousness that it had to be met with a significant custodial sentence."
Mr Justice Woulfe further noted that Mr Justice McDermott had given "significant credit" to the appellant for his early guilty plea, remorse and other mitigating factors. The sentencing judge had also been anxious to build rehabilitation into the sentencing regime and did so by ordering reports to be drawn up every two years by psychiatrists, psychologists and other relevant professionals, he said. Those documents will be available to the Central Criminal Court when the offender comes before it for a sentence review after he has spent ten years in custody.
Mr Justice Woulfe found that while the previous case involving a teenager who committed murder and showed no remorse is a "relevant comparator", he said the outcome in that case "cannot necessarily be decisive in a later case." He said the sentence imposed by Mr Justice McDermott was "within the range of sentence available to the sentencing judge, given the serious offending involved." While another judge might have imposed a different sentence, Mr Justice Woulfe said that for the Court of Appeal to intervene they would need to be convinced that the sentence imposed was outside the available range.
Mr Justice Woulfe, sitting with President of the court Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice John Edwards, dismissed the appeal.
In December Mr Justice Paul McDermott sentenced the youth to life imprisonment but ordered that the sentence be reviewed by a judge of the Central Criminal Court after he has spent ten years in custody. The judge will have access to reports from psychiatrists, psychologists, probation services and prison governors to assess the defendant's progress. The reports are to be drawn up every two years following his 18th birthday.
During an appeal hearing earlier this year, Mr Dwyer told the court that his client and the deceased were previously good friends. They had fallen out, however, after Mr Osborne accused the defendant of "ratting" on him to drug dealers who were looking for money for cocaine that Mr Osborne had obtained without making payment.
Mr Dwyer said that in the culture where his client lived, being called a rat was "very significant" and in particular the teenager became upset when his own father sent him a message saying: "You’re after ratting on him. I don’t want anything to do with you."
This caused such extreme distress, counsel said, that when it was mentioned during his garda interviews the teenager was so overcome that the interview had to be stopped.
Mr Dwyer said his client did not have the cognitive skills or emotional stability to deal with being called a rat, particularly by his father. He said it was accepted by a garda giving evidence at the sentence hearing that he didn't set out to commit murder and did not immediately produce a knife when the fight with Mr Osborne began.
Following the stabbing, Mr Dwyer said his client went to a garda station, made full admissions, showed genuine remorse and pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.
Counsel compared that with another case in which a teenager who had committed an unprovoked, "callous, cold-blooded killing", pleaded not guilty and showed no remorse. In that case, Mr Dwyer said, the murderer received the same sentence.
Mr Dwyer also argued that Mr Justice McDermott did not mention in his judgement certain mitigating factors, including that his client had no previous convictions.
Following the guilty plea in August last year Mr Justice McDermott said the most significant aggravating factor in the murder was that the teen had armed himself with a knife before confronting Mr Osborne. He said: "The fact he brought a knife and contemplated to use it, and the fact he used it on another human being he knew to be unarmed, who was his friend and who was unaware this was to happen, was an aggravating factor in this case."
The most significant mitigating factor, the judge said, was that he pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, indicating "a willingness to face up to his responsibility and to take on board what he has done."
He noted the defendant's genuine "sorrow, regret and remorse," and said the guilty plea shows an "appreciation of the appalling damage he has inflicted on Glen Osborne's family". However, he also noted that he has a "very short fuse and is very prone to being angry". He suffers, the judge said, from behavioural issues, boundary issues and anger issues which need to be addressed and are a "big concern". He further described the defendant as impetuous, said he has a deficiency in his judgment and noted that he had a "chaotic lifestyle" and difficulties within his family growing up.
Mr Justice McDermott said that given the fact that the defendant had struck a fatal blow with a knife, the appropriate sentence is one of life. He added that the attack had "many of the hallmarks of immaturity and stupidity, lack of judgement and proportionality" but was not of "the most egregious or malicious" type such as a meticulously planned killing. Therefore, he said, he could allow a review of the life sentence after ten years.
Evidence at sentence hearing:
At a sentence hearing in October last year Detective Sergeant Ken Hoare of Mountjoy Garda Station told Pauline Walley SC for the Director of Public Prosecutions that the accused had a "somewhat troubled upbringing" and had been homeless with his mother during his adolescence.
The deceased, he said, had been promised by his employer that he would begin a carpentry apprenticeship but due to covid restrictions he was laid off and started using cannabis and cocaine. On the Sunday before he died he went with the defendant and they got drugs without making payment. The following day the windows of Mr Osborne's home were smashed, in what the detective said was retaliation for the fact payment had not been made. Mr Osborne believed that the defendant had identified his home to those people, that he had "ratted him to a third party". The day of the murder there were "angry messages to and fro" and the defendant was labelled a "rat". One hour before the murder the defendant's own father sent him a message calling him a rat.
The defendant, carrying a white bag with a knife in it, took a taxi to Ballybough where he met the deceased at the entrance to Ballybough House. There was a fight which was broken up by onlookers but then a second fight began that was caught on CCTV. Garda Hoare said the defendant, who had by then taken the knife from the bag, could be seen swinging his arm and stabbing Mr Osborne once in the chest. A pathologist's report showed that he died from a single stab wound that penetrated the heart causing massive blood loss.
The accused ran away but was on his way to Mountjoy Garda Station with his mother and aunt, planning to hand himself in, when he was stopped by a garda patrol that night. He accepted what he had done and pleaded guilty to murder.
In a written statement to the court Mr Osborne's partner Lauren Cray said she and Glen fell in love and had moved in with one another and planned to have a child. He was excited when he found out he was going to be a father and cried when he first heard the child's heartbeat. All he wanted, she said, was to have his son and for them to be together.
Glen's mother Rose said Glen was a fighter from the day he was born, six and a half weeks premature. He was a "grafter" who got up early every morning to go to work and never brought trouble to her door.
She said: "Glen grew into a lovely young man with a cheeky smile. He had the gift of the gab and he was a charmer with the ladies." He was delighted when Lauren got pregnant, she said, adding: "When he was murdered it was the start of my nightmare. I died with Glen that day." He would have been 21 in June this year, "and that was worse than the funeral of my only child. My reason for living has been taken away from me."
She said she feels herself failing every day but she doesn't mind as she would "gladly go to God." She added: "I’m sitting broken and alone waiting for Glen to come in and say, "hello princess what’s for dinner?" She said she would give anything to have her son back. "My ray of light is gone forever."
In a written letter of apology the defendant said he was sorry and heartbroken at what he had done. Addressing Rose Osborne, he said: "I say a prayer every night that you can get through this."