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Truck driver who was put on trial for murder three times is sentenced for manslaughter

He was sentenced to 11 years in prison, which was backdated to when he went into custody in 2014.

Criminal Courts of Justice
Criminal Courts of Justice
Image: Sasko Lazarov via RollingNews.ie

A TRUCK DRIVER who was put on trial accused of the same murder three times and saw a conviction quashed by the Supreme Court has been jailed for 11 years for manslaughter.

Zoltan Almasi had “caused near instantaneous death” with a single and “savage blow” of a baseball bat after he saw his 20-year-old victim banging on his van.

Sentencing Almasi at the Central Criminal Court today, Mr Justice Michael White said the killing of Joseph “Joe Joe” Dunne has had “a devastating impact” on his family and the “exhaustive process and long drawn out legal procedure” of three trials and two appeals had been “especially hard” on them.

“To lose your son and brother of 20 years of age in a violent, unnecessary act is heartbreaking but to go through the court hearings has been an unbearable trauma for the family,” added the judge.

Almasi (49), a Serbian with an address at Harbour View, Naas, Co Kildare was convicted of murdering Dunne on 16 May 2014 following a trial.

The father-of-three appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeal on grounds that the trial judge should have allowed the defence of provocation to go to the jury.

That court upheld his conviction but Almasi won a subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court, which quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial. His second and third trials resulted in jury disagreements.

Speaking outside the Criminal Courts of Justice today, Dunne’s father George Dunne said: “The last seven years have been hell for me and my family for being dragged through three trials. As of today he [Almasi] has been sentenced to 11 years. The sentence is not going to bring back our son. Joe Joe was a kind and loving son and brother.

He went out that night with his friends and never came home. What happened to Joe Joe will have an everlasting and traumatic effect on us as a family.

“His friends that night bravely gave evidence at the trial and we as a family would like to thank them. I would like to thank our legal team over the last seven years and the gardaí and everyone else along the way … Hopefully Joe Joe can rest in peace now.”

Following his last trial, which ended in July this year, the Director of Public Prosecutions accepted a plea of manslaughter, which Almasi had offered at his previous trials.

Prosecution counsel Caroline Biggs SC told Mr Justice White at last week’s sentence hearing that the Director of Public Prosecutions considered Almasi’s offence to be in the high culpability bracket for manslaughter, which would attract a headline sentence of between ten to 15 years.

Sentencing 

Before delivering the sentence today, Mr Justice White said the court was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that from the time Almasi started running at speed after Dunne with a baseball bat, the accused had intended to cause him serious injury “which he did with a savage blow down on his head causing near instantaneous death”.

Passing sentence, the judge said it was immaterial that the jury had disagreed and could not reach a verdict on the murder charge and the court now had to sentence Almasi on the facts of the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Having regard to the gravity of the offence, the judge said the offence comes within the high culpability range of manslaughter and set a headline sentence of 15 years.

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The aggravating factors in the case included that Almasi had armed himself with a weapon capable of causing serious injury and had “delivered a savage blow” to the deceased’s head, which caused the death of “a young man”.

In mitigation, the judge noted his guilty plea to manslaughter, that he was “an ordinary and hardworking man” who had come home after working a late shift, that prior to the banging on his van there was no evidence to suggest the accused had any intention of inflicting harm on anyone and that he had been an exemplary prisoner.

The accused has no previous convictions.

Almasi was sentenced to 11 years in prison, which was backdated to when he went into custody on 16 May 2014.

Counsel for Almasi, James Kelly BL, asked the court to make a recommendation that the accused finish out his sentence in Wheatfield Prison, which Mr Justice White agreed to.

“I hope Mr Dunne’s family can now get some closure and reflect on the good times and memories of Joseph who was taken away from his family far too young,” concluded the judge.

About the author:

Alison O'Riordan

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