A man with a history of assaulting women has had his prison sentence doubled “on the eve of his release” after a finding that his original two year jail term for assaulting his present partner was too lenient.
Aaron Heffernan (39), with an address at John Paul Avenue, Cavan town, had pleaded guilty at Cavan Circuit Criminal Court to two counts of assaulting his partner causing her harm on October 21 and October 30, 2016.
He was given two concurrent two year terms of imprisonment by Judge John O’Hagan in August 2017.
The Court of Appeal increased Heffernan’s sentence last Friday, after finding that his original term was too lenient. He was accordingly given two consecutive two year terms, leaving him with a net four year prison sentence. He had originally been due for release on Monday (April 30).
In seeking a review of sentence, counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Monica Lawlor BL, said there was concern for the well being of the injured party but also for the well being of any other women Heffernan may start a relationship with.
Giving judgement in the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice George Birmingham said Heffernan assaulted his partner during the currency of a suspended sentence he was serving for a number of section 3 assaults involving three female injured parties.
For the present offences, Mr Justice Birmingham said formal pleas were entered in respect of two counts on a full facts basis.
However, the court heard evidence of a number of other “assaults” on the same injured party.
It should be explained, the judge said, that the injured party made a statement of complaint to the gardaí after Heffernan was arrested close to her home with blood on his hand. However, she subsequently retracted that statement.
Then on October 30, she made a further statement in relation to an incident that day as well as an incident on October 21 (both assault charges to which Heffernan pleaded guilty). When making that statement, she indicated that what she had said in the first statement “had in fact been correct”, the judge said.
Mr Justice Birmingham said Heffernan began a relationship with the injured party in July 2016. He had only just been released from prison having served his sentence for assaulting the other women in what was described as “nearly being carbon copy” assaults as the present offences.
“Quite soon” after his relationship with the present injured party began, and shorty after his release from prison, the first of the assaults with which the court was concerned occurred.
The Circuit Court heard of visits to Cavan Hospital on three dates. The injuries included bruising over the body, bite marks, a bloodshot eye and a fractured rib.
On October 21, Heffernan entered the injured party’s bedroom and punched her in the ribs. She fell onto the bed and he punched her to the left eye. He also bit her.
In hospital, where a scan revealed she had a fractured rib, the injured party told medics that she had fallen off a horse, adding that she didn’t have a horse.
The description of the second assault was that the injured party was asleep in her bedroom when she heard something at her window. She looked up and saw Heffernan entering. He said to her to ‘stop whinging’ and that she was ‘doing his head in’.
He lay on top of her, straddling her, and kept on about the fact she had gone to the gardaí. He told her to stop crying or he would make her stop crying. He squeezed her throat for 20 - 30 seconds and while holding her throat he started punching her.
She was bitten and her head was pushed against a wall. The incident was described as lasting from about 1.30am to 6.10am.
Descriptions were given of the other incidents including one episode in which Heffernan said he hoped she wasn’t pregnant and if she was, she would have to get an abortion.
Mr Justice Birmingham said Heffernan had served in the Defence Forces from 2000 to 2012 and served overseas on two occasions, in Chad and Liberia. His army career ended after he received a custodial sentence. He had a number of difficulties in his life, the court had heard.
A feature of the sentence hearing was that a letter from the injured party was handed in to court seeking leniency. She also gave sworn evidence stating that her and Heffernan had reconciled and described them as having become engaged. She made very clear it was her wish that the court would deal with Heffernan leniently.
Mr Justice Birmingham said Heffernan’s previous offences, described as “carbon copy” assaults on women, had to be seen as a significant aggravating factor. Furthermore, his general record showed a “propensity for violence”.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the sentences imposed did not reflect the gravity of the offending behaviour.
He said Heffernan has used his time in custody productively. He was facing this review of sentence “almost on the eve of his release date” which was Monday (April 30) and the prospect of having his time in prison extended which “must be difficult for him”.
He said the court also took account of the fact the undue leniency review had not been handled with the expedition that would have been expected.
Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Edwards, resentenced Heffernan to two years on each assault count but made one consecutive to the other leaving him with a new net sentence of four years imprisonment backdated to the original date.