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Urantsetseg Tserendorj
Court of Appeal

Life sentence for teenager who murdered Urantsetseg Tserendorj 'disproportionate', Court hears

It is being argued in the Court of Appeal that the sentence was disproportionate and may be self-defeating.

A LIFE SENTENCE with a review after 13 years for the teenager who murdered Urantsetseg Tserendorj as she walked home alone on the Dublin docklands was disproportionate, a barrister has told the Court of Appeal.

Mark Lynam SC told the three-judge court today that his client, who is now aged 17 and had 31 previous convictions at the time of sentencing, should have received a determinate sentence or at least be entitled to a sentence review sooner than 13 years.

Mr Lynam told the court that internationally, Ireland is being encouraged to move away from life sentences for children because they can be “inhuman and degrading”.

Counsel said in this case he is arguing the sentence was disproportionate and may be self-defeating.

After his 18th birthday, the young offender will be transferred to an adult prison, Mr Lynam said.

As he develops he “will have slips,” and being housed with adult offenders “is likely to have an impact on that”, counsel said. 

Sean Guerin SC, for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), said the sentence imposed by Mr Justice Tony Hunt at the Central Criminal Court was within the range of discretion available.

He reminded the court that the defendant had deliberately armed himself with a knife for the purpose of robbing people and gave his victim no chance when he stabbed her in the neck.

President of the three-judge Court of Appeal, Mr Justice George Birmingham, said the court would try to deliver its judgment on 19 December. 

The accused, who was 14 at the time of the offence and cannot be named because he is a minor, had denied the murder of Ms Tserendorj but had pleaded guilty to her manslaughter on 29 January, 2021.

He was found guilty of her murder by a jury last year following two trials. The first trial ended with a jury disagreement.


Ms Tserendorj was stabbed in the neck on a walkway between George’s Dock and Custom House Quay in the IFSC, Dublin on 20 January, 2021 and was declared dead nine days later on the evening of 29 January.

She died from a lack of oxygen to the brain caused by a stab wound that partially severed her carotid artery.

Ms Tserendorj, who worked in Dublin’s city centre, had moved to Ireland with her husband and two children approximately 15 years before she was killed.  

The streets of Dublin were largely deserted at the time due to covid restrictions and Ms Tserendorj was walking home from work alone when the teenager approached and asked for money.

When she said she did not have any money, he stabbed her.

He then cycled away and later attempted to rob another woman.

At today’s hearing, Mr Lynam said Mr Justice Hunt did not have proper regard for his client’s age and for the fact that although he was found guilty of murder, the judge found that his intent was to cause serious harm rather than to kill.

Mr Lynam said: “It was obviously a horrific death with a grave moral culpability, but there wasn’t an intention to kill.

“It was the intention to cause serious harm and that may have come on very fleetingly during the course of the incident and dissipated shortly afterwards.” 

Mr Lynam said other murders committed by children “pretty much universally” involved an intention to kill, some with premeditation.

“That is absent here,” he said.

Counsel also pointed to his client’s lack of maturity and the “extraordinarily difficult challenges” he faced in life; he was born addicted to heroin and when he first met his mother she self-harmed in front of him on a public street.

Prior to that, Mr Lynam said, his client had been part of an “excellent peer group” and participated in sport but “that event triggered something terrible in his development and he started on drugs.”

He began stealing bikes and later turned to robberies to feed his drug habit, counsel said.

Mr Lynam said there is nothing to suggest that the defendant could not return to the lifestyle he had before he turned to drugs “except if he goes into custody for years with adult offenders”.

Mr Lynam said a child should be entitled to an end date for their sentence, particularly given the specific circumstances of this case.

Mr Guerin, for the DPP, said despite the accused’s age, there was no suggestion that he didn’t understand what he was doing when he stabbed Ms Tserendorj.

He said that intent to cause serious injury is “still a very serious matter and is still capable of attracting a sentence of life imprisonment”.

Counsel reminded the court that the offender armed himself with a knife for the purpose of committing the offence of robbery and singled out Ms Tserendorj because she was “an isolated, vulnerable woman walking alone… She wasn’t given a chance.”

Counsel concluded: “Was it within the range of discretion to apply a sentence of life imprisonment? I say the answer to that is clearly, yes.”

Sentencing hearing

At a sentencing hearing last year Detective Sergeant Brendan Casey said both of the teenager’s parents were chronic drug addicts.

His grandmother gave evidence of him becoming involved in the abuse of drugs from an early age.  

Det Sgt Casey said that the teenager had 31 previous convictions, including two attempted robberies, five robberies, one production of an article, one assault causing harm, and a number of drug offences.  

Ms Tserendorj’s husband, Ulambayer Surenkhor wrote a statement to the court, saying that he and his family had lived happily until “that terrible tragedy”.  

“I lost my beloved wife and our children lost their mother. My health has been affected by severe mental difficulties and I have heart problems. I get unstable, lose my temper, and I just want to scream.

“She was kind and soft like my mother, and we were each other’s first loves. That horrible day, due to the loss of her mother, my daughter is in deep emotional turmoil,” said Mr Surenkhor.  

On the same night as the murder, the teenager attempted to steal a phone from another woman, Tayo Odelade.

Det Sgt Casey said she resisted and swore at him, to which the teenager said he was only messing.

Ms Odelade replied that he was not messing and again cursed at him. He got offended and said: “That could have been a lot worse for you.”

He then took out a knife from under his jacket which she said was about 5 inches long. She apologised and he put the knife away and left.  

The teenager was also charged with an incident in a Spar shop on O’Connell Street at 5.30am on the same date.

Det Sgt Casey said the teenager went to the till with sweets behind his back and said to the shopkeeper: “I have a fucking blade, what are you going to do about it?”

Another employee arrived and the accused left the shop, but as he was leaving, he said: “You don’t know who you’re dealing with.”  

The shopkeeper, John Caulwell, made a victim impact statement in which he said: “I was petrified and feared for my safety.

“When he left, I was trembling, all I could think about was that I could be stabbed. I am 16 years in my business and this is the only time I thought I might be killed.”  

There was a final charge against the teenager of stealing a bicycle two days earlier on 18 January in Talbot Place.

Det Sgt Casey said that a woman, Yu Yu Son, was working late and was about to get on her bike when she was approached by the teenager, who put one hand on the handlebars and one hand on the seat.

He used the bike to push her, injuring her legs, before he pulled the bike from her, got on it and cycled away.

Both her legs were bruised and very sore. She recognised him later and recorded an image which she shared with gardaí.

In her victim impact statement, Ms Son said: “I leave the light on when I go to bed, and whenever I see teenagers in black clothing and hats, I get afraid. I’m afraid to chat face to face with strangers.”  

The teenager’s grandmother read out a letter to the court, which she said she had written to give a glimpse into the child he was.  

“I am not a mother who sees no wrong in a child. I never had anything to do with crime and I don’t condone criminal behaviour,” she said.  

She said her grandson used to be “sports mad”, excelling at hurling and boxing.

She said he changed when his birth mother introduced herself to him in the street and when she did not get what she wanted from him, his mother said she would cut herself.

He never returned to boxing or GAA after that and began to get into trouble at school.  

“His new friends were all involved in stealing bikes and using the money to buy drugs. I got many agencies involved but nothing worked. He would be awake at night crying and made three suicide attempts,” she said.

She said that Ms Tserendorj has become part of her prayers, and the pain of watching Ms Tserendorj’s husband “brought me to my knees”.