herald

Saturday 21 July 2018

Family who confronted gunman now 'planning our lives through fear'

Rapist Eoghan O’Connell
Rapist Eoghan O’Connell

A convicted rapist will be sentenced next month for attempting to murder a Wicklow man in front of his wife and children - failing only because the shotgun cartridges he used were damp.

Eoghan O'Connell tried to shoot the father-of-three twice as his victim was leaving the family home to go to work, shortly after 7am. The shotgun misfired both times.

The man and his family have since left Co Wicklow.

The 29-year-old, of Dargle Heights, Bray, was before the Central Criminal Court yesterday for his sentence hearing. O'Connell, also a father-of-three, had pleaded guilty to attempting to murder the man in his driveway at Old Court Park, Bray on April 8, 2016.

Detective Sergeant Eamon O'Neill told Denis Vaughan Buckley SC, prosecuting, that the victim was confronted by a masked man with a gun: "He tried to shoot him from a distance of six feet but misfired," he testified. A struggle ensued.

"The victim managed to pull the balaclava from him and recognised him as Eoghan O'Connell," he said. "He knew him all his life."

Struck

The victim's wife came out and also recognised him, he said. The couple's 11-year-old son struck the attacker several times with a kitchen brush to help his father.

O'Connell got away but left behind his balaclava, a finger from a latex glove and the two shotgun cartridges. His DNA was found on the balaclava and the latex.

O'Connell evaded arrest on April 29 when he assaulted one of the gardai running after him.

He punched and kicked Sgt John O'Reilly as he jumped a fence.

Det Sgt O'Neill said that, even after the evidence was put to him in interviews, O'Connell denied involvement. He then listed some of O'Connell's 65 previous convictions, including one for rape and two for assault.

Under cross examination by Michael O'Higgins SC, defending, he agreed the origin of the attack was a dispute between two groups in a pub years earlier.

Though his client had not been there, he was associated with one of the groups and his victim was "perceived to be" in the other group.

Though the victim and his wife had not come to court, the sergeant read out a statement that revealed the trauma they had faced.

The victim's wife wrote that the family's normal life had dramatically changed since the attack, which was still fresh in their minds. Time had not made things any easier, she said.

"It has become a daily struggle to feel safe and secure," she wrote. "Maintaining normality is gone and our lives now consist of looking over our shoulders and planning life through fear."

She said their mental health had diminished and they now lived in a state of continuous anxiety.

"We both find it hard to sleep and often wake suddenly to check our windows in case there is a gunman waiting to take our lives," she wrote. "Simple things like the doorbell ringing creates panic."

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