COURT

Two Co. Tipperary men jailed for vicious attack on taxi driver and his son at their home

Father and son feared for their lives in raid by masked and armed men

Court reporter

Reporter:

Court reporter

Two Co. Tipperary men jailed for vicious attack on taxi driver and his son at their home

Robert Devine, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison with the final eight years suspended

A Clonmel father and son have received 20-year and 17-year prison terms for the late night burglary and vicious, frenzied attack on a Clonmel taxi driver and his son in their home using a hammer, golf club, wooden bat and knife as weapons. 

Judge Patrick Meghan imposed 20 years jail on Robert Devine (43) and suspended the final eight years of the sentence and sentenced his son Lee Kelly (20) to 17 years jail with the final 10 years suspended at Clonmel Circuit Court last Thursday. 

He handed down these lengthy jail terms after hearing how Devine and Kelly both of no fixed abode broke into the home of PJ O’Reilly at 61 Highfield Grove, Clonmel with their faces masked and armed with weapons in the early hours of December 17, 2017. 

PJ O’Reilly, aged 66 at the time, was viciously beaten and stabbed in the leg and feared for his life as Devine shouted at Kelly to “kill him, finish him off”. His son Brian, then aged 18, suffered injuries to both his hands and escaped from the house in fear for his life by climbing out a bathroom window.  

The court heard Devine, who has previously served a sentence for manslaughter, and Kelly, an accomplished boxer, broke into the O’Reilly home over a €50 debt Brian O’Reilly owed Devine. 

Sentencing both men, Judge Meghan said this was a life changing event for the victims, whose sense of security was  taken away and enjoyment of their own property was gone because of the defendants’ actions.  

Devine and Kelly pleaded guilty at the court to committing burglary at 61 Highfield Grove and assaulting and harming PJ and Brian O’Reilly.

Several other charges proferred against  Devine and Kelly were taken into account by the judge.   In the case of Devine, they  were threatening PJ O’Reilly and threatening his wife Eleanor O’Reilly; producing a hammer and wooden bat during a dispute in a manner likely to intimidate another person and two charges of threatening to kill or cause serious harm to Brian O’Reilly via Facebook and telephone. 

In the case of Lee Kelly, a charge of producing a golf club and knife in the course of  a dispute was taken into account.

Prosecution counsel Vincent Heneghan SC  recounted that around 10pm on December 16, 2017, Robert Devine telephoned Brian O’Reilly and said: “Brian you remember the €50 you owe. Do you want to have a straightener with my son to settle the debt. I heard you were calling us rats. I am going to chop you up?”

 Brian gave the phone to his dad PJ, who told Devine to “f**k off and leave him (his son) alone” and  put down the phone. 

PJ O’Reilly went to bed at 12.45am. He and his wife Eleanor   woke up at 3am when he heard the front door open. It had been left unlocked as he couldn’t find the key. He thought Brian had come in. Mr  O’Reilly  heard an almighty bang and could hear his son Brian shouting “Dad, they’re in the house”. 

Mr O’Reilly went out and saw two men in the hall. One had a golf club and the other had a hammer. Robert Devine, who had a scarf over his mouth, swung around. Lee Kelly wore a baseball hat, a black hoody and scarf over his mouth. Both PJ and Brian O’Reilly recognised Devine and Kelly as they knew them well. Mr Heneghan said Devine was distantly related to PJ O’Reilly. 

 Devine shouted that he wanted his money. PJ O’Reilly hit Devine as hard as he could. Devine fell to the floor and Mr O’Reilly bent down to him but as he did so  the other person hit him in the side of the head.  He thought it was a golf club that hit him. 

PJ O’Reilly grabbed hold of  Devine as he fell to try and stop Devine hitting him with a hammer. Mr O’Reilly was in a crouched position at this stage and Lee Kelly was hitting him on the left leg. 

Mr Heneghan said PJ O’Reilly remembered a prodding sensation on his left leg. Only afterwards, he realised he had been stabbed in the leg. Lee Kelly threw Mr O’Reilly off his father and he fell to the ground. At this stage they started hitting him repeatedly. Devine hit him in the side of the head with the hammer.

He heard Devine roaring “finish him off, finish him off” He put his arms to his face and raised his legs to protect himself. He was  terrified. He was overpowered and couldn’t fight back. Devine hit him again with the hammer. 

Mr O’Reilly was bleeding and trying to remain conscious to defend and protect himself. He remembered Lee Kelly  was kicking him as well. The assaults were so quick and frenzied he couldn't recall every blow.

 Eventually  Kelly pulled Devine off Mr O’Reilly and said to Devine they needed to get out of there. Mr O’Reilly got a blow to his left ankle as they were leaving He was lying on his back and he remembered his son Brian trying to put something to his head to stop the bleeding.  The next thing he remembered was Sgt. Buckley arriving.   

Mr Heneghan  said Mr O’Reilly believed he would have been killed but for Lee Kelly pulling Robert Devine off him. Devine shouted twice to Kelly “kill him, finish him off.” 

In relation to the attack on Brian O’Reilly, Mr Heneghan outlined that  prior to this incident, Brian purchased 30 Xanax tablets from Robert Devine for recreational purposes but he didn’t hand over the €50. Devine looked for the money over the following period of time. As well as the telephone call that night, a message was  sent to Brian through Facebook. 

Brian went to O’Keeffe’s Nightclub in Clonmel around 11pm on December 16. He  came home around 2.30pm and went to bed. 

Around the 3am, he heard a dog barking and got up to go to the toilet. He came out of his room and saw Devine and Kelly standing in the hall.  

 Lee Kelly had a golf club in one hand and a knife in the other hand.   The two men ran towards him. Brian  ran into the bathroom and locked the door. Lee Kelly smashed the golf club against the door and it  came through the door’s top left panel. As the  club came through the door a second time, Brian O’Reilly grabbed it and elbowed Lee Kelly in the left side of his head and shouted “I thought you were my friend”. 

 The golf club was pulled back off him and immediately a stainless steal knife came through the panel. Brian was stabbed in the left hand with the knife. He pulled the towel rail off the wall to protect himself and banged on the bathroom wall calling for his dad. He could hear his father getting up.  Brian  heard his father screaming for help and heard Devine shout “finish him off”.  He was frightened for his life. He couldn’t find the bathroom door key to get out so he broke the window, got out the window and ran to the house next door. He grabbed two knives in the neighbour’s kitchen to protect himself and ran back out into the street. As he did so, he saw Devine and Kelly leaving. 

 His mother was out in the street crying.  He ran to his father , who was covered in blood and couldn’t move. The court heard Brian suffered lacerations to both his hands and received stitches at South Tipperary General Hospital.

While being interviewed by gardai following their arrest,  Devine and Kelly  admitted being in the house. Lee Kelly showed remorse  and said he wanted to apologise.  

Gda. O’Brien said  Devine had 35 previous convictions, including a manslaughter conviction for which he received a 10 year sentence in the Central Criminal Court in 2009.  Kelly had 42 previous  convictions 

Leonard Devine, father of Robert Devine and grandfather of Lee Kelly, told the court he  apologised to the O’Reilly family for what his son and grandson did and stressed he didn’t condone their behaviour. 

He  indicated he was prepared to help his grandson when he left jail by providing him with a place to stay and whatever support he required. He agreed with defence counsel that  his grandson was a gifted sportsman and outlined that he competed at national level as a boxer with  Clonmel Boxing Club.  Mr Devine said Lee was also good at GAA and soccer. When asked if he supported his son Robert, he replied: “yes. He is still my son” and confirmed  Robert would be welcome at his home when he left prison. 

Devine’s defence counsel David Sutton SC said his client apologised unreservedly to all members of the O’Reilly family. 

His client’s guilty pleas were important as they avoided the holding of a trial and were  an acknowledgement of his wrongdoing. He requested Judge Meghan to regard his client’s guilty pleas as early pleas.  Mr Sutton pointed out his client didn’t seek bail when remanded in custody in relation to this case.

Kelly’s defence counsel Catherine Leader SC said her client admitted what he did shortly after his arrest. He apologised  and said he was ashamed.

She submitted that Kelly was 18 at the time he committed these offences and was “led astray” by his father that night. Devine got her client out of bed  and he didn’t really want to go to the (O’Reilly’s) house. He was “very much the second fiddle” in what happened and was led by Devine.  Ms Leader added that only for her client’s intervention during the incident, the situation could have got a lot worse

She said the gardai acknowledged Devine was a bad influence on her client, He had been  getting into trouble with the law since his father came back into his life.  Ms Leader also said  Lee Kelly’s mother was very ill.  

 She asked the court to take into account the fact his grandfather, who was a positive influence in his life, was ready to step in and support him on his release from prison. 

Judge Meghan said  aggravating circumstances in this case were the physical injuries and  pyschological impact on the victims. 

He noted PJ O’Reilly went into the witness box with an obvious limp and may have to undergo a hip operation. 

 “This has been a life changing event for these people. Their sense of security has been taken away and their enjoyment of their own property is gone.”

Judge Meghan said another  aggravating factor was this was a planned operation and “joint enterprise” by the two defendents executed  while the victims were asleep. Other aggravating factors were the weapons used and the level of violence used by the defendants.  

The Judge indicated Devine’s offences warranted a sentence of 12 years prison for burglary with two consecutive four year sentences for the assaults on PJ and Brian O’Reilly. 

Kelly’s offending warranted a sentence of nine years jail for the burglary with two consecutive four year prison sentences for the two assaults. 

Mitigating factors he took into account in suspending the final eight years of Devine’s sentence and final ten years of Kelly sentence for ten years were their  pleas of guilty, which saved the victims the ordeal of a trial, apologies to the victims and the fact Kelly was under the influence of his father and his youth. 

Judge Meghan suspended a portion of the sentences he imposed on Devine and Kelly on condition they keep the peace and be of good behaviour and stay away from the victims. The commencement of the prison terms were backdated to when the two men  first went into custody in December, 2017.

Victims’ “quality of life has been shattered”, court is told  

PJ O'Reilly used to cycle 30 miles a day before the  brutal attack but now he walks with a limp and is no longer able to cycle or stand on a sideline and watch a match. 

The 68 year-old man walked with difficulty into the witness box to read his victim impact statement at Clonmel Circuit Court last Thursday. 

He told the court he was assaulted all over his body  and suffered injuries to his head, back, shoulders, arms and particularly his left leg. There was a possibility he will need a hip operation shortly. 

He suffered a loss of balance, which meant his cycling activities were over.  Mr O'Reilly said his walking was  seriously affected. He used to go to   football matches every Sunday but he could no no longer stand for more than half an hour.  

He described  how he no longer felt safe and secure in the  home he worked so hard for and which had been his pride and joy. 

Mr O'Reilly said he suffered flashbacks of the attack daily and suffered from nightmares. He woke up at the least sound and constantly checked windows and doors. The family  installed CCTV at their house after the attack. 

“The impact on our family is immense. Our quality of life has been shattered. We are no longer outgoing,  happy people. We are now cautious and feel vulnerable, especially going out,” he said.  

Mr O’Reilly said the family hadn't celebrated Christmas over the past two years because of what happened and he doesn't believe they will do so this year. 

A medical report on Mr O’Reilly’s injuries presented to the court outlined that the assault had left him with significant ongoing injuries with the stab injuries to his leg causing a loss of mobility.  The report concluded that his injuries will continue long term. 

A  mental health  medical report detailed that Mr O’Reilly suffered from post-traumatic distress disorder following the attack, which had a huge impact on his day to day life. He had made huge progress over the last year but still suffered from residual symptoms. 

Brian O’Reilly and Eleanor O’Reilly didn’t go into the witness box to give their victim impact statements but they were read to the court. 

They described having  sleepless nights reliving the nightmare of the attack and suffering from anxiety. Eleanor O’Reilly said it  had taken a huge toll on all her family. “The thought of my husband left lying on the floor bleeding to death is a recurring nightmare.”  

“If you are not safe to live in your own home, where is it safe to live,” she asked.