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Clare man on trial for murder of mother-of-two Sharon Bennett changes plea to guilty

Patrick Ballard had initially pleaded not guilty to murdering his former partner in the Market area of Ennis on 28 January 2021.

A MAN HAS pleaded guilty two days into his trial at the Central Criminal Court for the murder of his former partner, who he kicked and stamped to death in a public toilet in Co Clare last year.

Defence counsel Mark Nicholas SC, for Patrick Ballard, previously told a jury of seven men and five women that his client admitted his actions caused the death of his partner and accepted that her killing was unlawful.

However, Ballard (35), formerly of Ashford Court Hotel, Ennis, Co Clare, had initially pleaded not guilty to murdering Sharon Bennett (29) in the Market area of Ennis on 28 January 2021.

Bennett died in hospital in Limerick two weeks later on 10 February 2021, due to her injuries.

Ballard and Bennett were in a relationship at the time of the murder. Bennett was a mother of two girls, then aged nine and six, from a previous relationship.

This morning, the court heard evidence from two witnesses present on the night of her murder. However, after lunch, Nicholas asked Mr Justice Paul Burns that his client be re-arraigned. The registrar then read out the charge of murder to Ballard, who replied “guilty”.

Mr Justice Burns thanked the jury for their service during the trial, which began on Wednesday and excused them from jury duty for five years. The trial had been expected to last two weeks.

Before Ballard entered his guilty plea, a witness said he tried to stop Ballard attacking Bennett as the accused stamped on her head in a public toilet, telling him: “She can’t survive this”.

Hussein ‘Jamesie’ Abdullah, who had been day-drinking with the accused and the deceased, gave evidence to the jury that he tried to intervene in the fatal attack on the night.

Abdullah told Dominic McGinn SC, for the prosecution, that he had been at the drinking spot with Ballard and Bennett in the afternoon of 28 January 2021, when Bennett started “beating” Ballard, drawing blood from his nose that Abdullah helped clean up.

Abdullah told McGinn that things then “went back to normal” after Ballard did not respond to Bennett striking him.

At around 6pm, the witness said, he, the accused and the deceased, went to the public toilet to get out of the cold at the suggestion of Bennett.

Abdullah said things were peaceful between the three drinkers until the “next thing” he knew was that Bennet was on the floor of the toilet.

The witness said that Ballard pushed Bennett, who had been sitting on the toilet, causing her to fall onto the metal floor. The witness said he tried to intervene but Ballard pushed him away and continued to attack Bennett.

Abdullah said he told Ballard that Bennett “could not survive this, stop it, stop it”, that he could not recall how many times Ballard had stamped and kicked her but that “it was bad, it happened just like that”.

Abdullah told McGinn that he then left to raise the alarm by phone, returned to his hostel and did not come back.

In his opening speech to the jury, McGinn told the court that Bennett had “lashed out” at Ballard during a prior argument by kicking him in the face as he sat on the ground in the car park. This was seen by some young men who were skateboarding in the car park at the time and those that were drinking with the pair also saw it happening, he added.

McGinn said the evidence would be that “things settled down” between the couple before they moved to the public toilet.

“They would habitually go there to stay out of the rain and drink there. It was a single cubicle unit with one toilet in it and a sliding door and one had to put some money into it,” he said.

He had also indicated to the jury that various members of the public saw some of what had happened. “They saw a man in the doorway of a toilet repeatedly kicking something or stamping on something. At the time members of the public didn’t realise that what he was kicking and stamping on was Ms Bennett’s head,” he said.

McGinn said an off-duty Garda was passing at the time and was first on the scene. However, by the time the off-duty Garda arrived Ballard had left the scene. The guard found Bennett still alive but in a critical condition with severe injuries to her head and face.

Bennett was taken to hospital where her condition stabilised but she eventually died on 10 February 2021.

The barrister further stated that the accused returned to where he was living at Ashford Court Hotel and spoke to the manager, who called the gardaí when he saw blood on Ballard.

The accused was then arrested and taken to Shannon Garda Station, where he said “certain things”, which counsel said would be part of the case for the jury to consider.

Counsel said the court will hear that Ballard was initially charged with assaulting Bennett. However, the accused was re-arrested on 24 March 2021 after the mother-of-two died on 10 February and charged with the offence of murder.

Mr Justice Burns adjourned the case to tomorrow to hear a victim impact statement. The mandatory sentence for murder is life imprisonment.

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Paul Neilan and Isabel Hayes.