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The entrance to Tymon Park in Tallaght Google Maps

Two young men narrowly avoid life sentences for 'vicious' attack on teenager

The victim was stabbed 14 times in a premeditated attack in 2021.

TWO YOUNG MEN who stabbed a teenager 14 times in a vicious and premeditated attack have received combined jail sentences of 13-and-a-half years.

The judge warned both defendants today that they were “a millimetre away from doing a life sentence” and “should be down on their knees giving thanks” they are not.

Sentencing Sean Johnston (22) and his now 20-year-old co-accused, who cannot be named for legal reasons, at the Central Criminal Court today, Mr Justice Tony Hunt called the case “very disturbing” and described the very “calculated degree of violence” on the then 16-year-old victim as “shocking”.

Mr Justice Hunt said both defendants “fitted the bill” for the term “feral youth”, which he said was occasionally used by the media. He said he found the case disturbing because it was perpetrated by “people so young”.

He called the victim impact statement previously given by the victim’s mother as “absolutely remarkable” in “its humane and charitable manner”. “If she can approach the matter in that way, I feel somewhat compelled to approach the matter in that sense,” he added.

The Central Criminal Court had heard evidence that Johnston had bragged about stabbing the victim, had described himself as a “gangster” and at one point started “rapping down the phone” to his ex-girlfriend having admitted to the attack.

The court has also heard evidence that Johnston threatened his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend, saying: “I puncture people’s lungs and leave them in hospital on life support. How is he not shitting himself?”

The judge said today that there were two separate “streams of crime” in the case, the first which concerned the breakdown of Johnston’s relationship with his ex-girlfriend, which revolved around her new partner and then the defendant’s disproportionate response to the breakdown of that relationship.

Last July, the victim’s mother in her statement called for support and guidance for the two defendants who were teenagers when they stabbed her son. The mother, who could not be named to protect her son’s identity as he was a minor at the time of the assault, said she felt “heartbreak” not just for her son, but also for the two men who inflicted his injuries.

Mr Justice Hunt described the mother’s statement at the time as “charitable and moving” and said he had recently heard a case where a man died from a single stab wound. He said he would echo the comments of a surgeon who said that the victim in this case was lucky to be alive. The two defendants, he said, could “count themselves lucky they are not facing a mandatory life sentence”.

Sean Johnston (22), of Russell Place, Russell Square, Tallaght, Dublin 24, had pleaded guilty to assault causing serious harm to the then 16-year-old victim at Tymon Lane in Tallaght on 2 January 2021. He had also pleaded guilty to six threats to kill another teenager, unrelated to the victim of the stabbing, via text message and once verbally at the Red Cow Luas stop in Dublin 22 on 14 April 2021.

Johnston’s co-accused pleaded guilty to intentionally causing serious harm to the teenager and to making a threat to kill or cause serious injury to another teenager, intending him to believe the threat would be carried out, at the Red Cow Luas Stop on 14 April 2021.

Both were initially charged with attempted murder but the State accepted their pleas and dropped the more serious charges.

Victim lured to location

Passing sentence today, Mr Justice Hunt said he had opted to impose a concurrent regime on the two defendants, which took into account the totality of the wrongdoing in each of their cases.

The judge said the men’s actions were premeditated and it wasn’t something that had blown up in a heated moment. He said the victim had been “lured” to a location through the “wonders of social media” and that the parties were unknown to each other.

He said both men had brought large and highly dangerous knives to the scene and set about using them in what must have been a “terrifying incident” of a violent attack.

Referring to the victim, Mr Justice Hunt said he had sustained 14 stab wounds all over his body and commented that it was a matter of millimetres whether a knife blow is fatal or not, depending on what way the knife goes in. He said everybody had been very lucky in the case, not least the accused men.

The judge said the victim was permanently damaged by the event, and his mother in her victim impact statement had referred to the enduring difficulties he now has.

He said the threats made by Johnston could be seen as some sort of misguided lesson or bravado but not when the established capacity from the violence was looked at. He added: “There are disturbing straws in the wind, he [Johnston] wondered what it was like to stab someone”.

The judge said the defendants had dismissed this as “loose talk” at the time but it didn’t seem so loose in light of subsequent events and that had created a worry as to what was going on in Johnston’s mind.

Mr Justice Hunt set a headline sentence of 16 years for Johnston and 13 years for the second youth.

Referring to Johnston’s co-accused, the judge said the defendant was just under 18 years at the time so he would make a “modest allowance” for his youth and “trim” the sentence back to 11 years.

The judge said the main benefit both men had were their guilty pleas and he would therefore apply one quarter of a discount to both sentences, resulting in a sentence of 12 years for Johnston and eight years for his co-accused.

‘Absolutely remarkable’ victim impact statement

Mr Justice Hunt said there were other “weighty” mitigating factors applicable to each defendant. He said Johnston had no previous convictions and “two remarkable features” of the case were the voices from the defendant’s aunt and the victim’s mother.

He described the victim impact statement given by the victim’s mother as “absolutely remarkable” in its humane and charitable manner. “If she can approach the matter in that way, I feel somewhat compelled to approach the matter in that sense,” he added.

The judge said Johnston would do well to bring himself under the influence of his aunt, who had seen the wound her nephew sustained in the aftermath of events at Tymon Lane and, instead of covering up for him, had immediately gone to the authorities.

“Bad for her nephew but good from her point of view. She made an eloquent plea. I feel I have to build it in [to the sentence] to reflect these very unusual features,” he said.

The judge said whilst Johnston is at a high risk of re-offending, he needed to avail of services to address these tendencies which he had developed in his youth. The defendant was sentenced to 12 years in prison with the final four years suspended for a period of eight years to take into account the weighty mitigating factors. His sentence was backdated to 30 September 2021.

The judge warned: “I want him to understand if I have average good luck, I’ll still be around. I do not want to see or hear from him again, there is no threshold below which this sentence will not be imposed. I’m only doing it because of the remarkable features of the case.

Both men were millimetres away from doing a life sentence. They may think this is a long sentence, but they should be down on their knees giving thanks.

In relation to the second youth, the judge imposed a sentence of eight years imprisonment with the final two-and-a-half years suspended resulting in a sentence of five-and-a-half years. His sentence was backdated to 28 January 2022.

Finally, the judge warned the two defendants that their suspended sentences would be fully imposed if there was any trouble from them. He also told the courtroom that the victim’s mother was a “very special sort of person”.

‘I’ll stab your ma to death’

Last July, Garda Vincent Reay told Lorcan Staines SC, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, that when Johnston’s ex-girlfriend started seeing someone else in late 2020, the defendant “took that particularly badly”.

He sent messages to his girlfriend in November that year threatening to kill her new boyfriend.

On New Year’s Eve Johnston wanted the new boyfriend to come out for a fight and sent him a message saying, “you’d better come out today or I’ll stab your ma to death, you little knacker”.

The subject of the threat and his mother left their home and she told gardai she was “frightened Sean would find her” as she “knew him to be violent and believed he would kill [her son] or herself.”

The stabbing victim was not related to the earlier incidents, the court heard, but was in regular phone contact with Johnston and agreed to meet him at Tymon Park in Tallaght on 2 January 2021.

When he arrived, the victim was attacked by Johnston and the second youth who “jumped out of nearby bushes”.

A passerby arrived just as the two assailants were moving away. He saw one of the two carrying a knife with a long blade and saw that the victim had blood all over his clothes. He called an ambulance.

Gardaí discovered a hunting knife near the boundary of the park and Johnston’s aunt later told gardai that she had picked her nephew up near the same boundary and that he had a large cut to his hand having climbed over a railing.

Gardaí used GPS from Johnston’s and his co-accused’s phones to trace their movements leading up to and after the assault. Johnston’s phone also showed that he had three calls with the victim in the lead-up to the assault.

The victim had three “significant stab wounds to the back” and further stab wounds to the left of the torso, the left hip, the hands, and a “very large slice” on the right leg, the garda said.

Following that assault, Johnston contacted his ex-girlfriend again and told her he had carried out the stabbing. He described himself as a “gangster” and his ex-girlfriend told gardaí that in a later call he was “acting like it was any other day” and started “rapping down the phone” and talking about her new boyfriend.

He made threats towards her boyfriend and was “bragging” about the stabbing he had carried out, she said. “He said he got a thrill from stabbing people and that he likes it,” the ex-girlfriend told gardai.

He later sent messages saying that her boyfriend is “mad”, that he “doesn’t know how much of a psycho I am and what I’m like, I’m not all talk, I really hurt people”. He said that he thought the stabbing victim was dead and “I slept like a baby” and told her that he would “torture” her boyfriend.

He added:

I puncture people’s lungs and leave them in hospital on life support, how is he not shitting himself?

The garda said there was further evidence that both defendants were in possession of knives when they encountered the subject of those threats at the Luas Red Cow stop in April 2021. Gardaí and Luas security guards overheard both men threaten to kill the teenager.

Michael Bowman SC, on behalf of Johnston, told the court that his client has a “considerable history of mental health concern”. He handed in a number of testimonies from Johnston’s employer, grandmother and aunt and a report drawn up by a consultant psychiatrist.

Counsel said that his client accepts there will be a significant custodial sentence imposed and said his client can only “apologise unreservedly” for what he did.

Conor Devally SC, on behalf of the second accused, said his client had begun using drugs at an early age and despite the best efforts of his family, had left school and “fell off a cliff” in terms of his behaviour.

He described his client as “someone who can be saved” as he is now working with a psychologist, has worked in construction, stayed off drugs and plans to move to a new area with his mother when he is finally released.

‘Not knowing if my son would live or die’

In her statement to the court, the victim’s mother described waiting for hours “not knowing if my son would live or die” as surgeons tried to stabilise him. He twice required a drain on his lungs because they could not stop the internal bleeding that caused his lungs to collapse.

Following life-saving surgery at St James’ Hospital, one of the surgeons told her that her son was “one lucky boy” to be alive as one of the stab wounds came within one quarter of a centimetre of his heart.

She described her son as a “kind, gentle and loving boy, who I have never seen hurt anyone, who was loved by his teachers, classmates, hurling team, coaches, family and many friends”.

He was alone when attacked, “unsuspecting and unarmed having been led there under false pretences”, she said. “For what? Why? What was the plan of those who attacked [her son].”

She said that she wants to believe they did not want to kill him and added: “No matter what led to this happening, there is no justification for a premeditated, vicious and violent attack like this.”

She said the trauma has changed her as a person and she has had to witness the “ongoing mental, emotional and physical effects this assault has had upon my son”.

She thanked the passerby, emergency services and doctors who saved her son’s life. “I am eternally grateful to them all and thank God every day that my son survived and is alive today,” she said.