A Longford woman who was found guilty by a majority verdict of ten to two last Friday afternoon, has been sentenced to three years imprisonment, with the final year suspended for a period of seven years, subject to a number of strict conditions.
Helen Doyle, 4 Cluain Ard, Ardnacassa, Longford, appeared for trial at Longford Circuit Court last week before Judge Keenan Johnson and a jury of eight women and four men, charged with robbing local furniture store owner, Pat Lynch, of €110 in August 2018. Following a two-day trial, Ms Doyle was found guilty.
Before Judge Keenan Johnson yesterday afternoon, Detective Garda Sean Galvin told the court that Ms Doyle has 73 previous convictions including 37 for theft, two for assault, three for burglary, four for criminal damage, one for section three drugs, one for affray, one for larceny, seven for failure to appear, nine for traffic offences and eight for public order.
Det Gda Galvin also told the court that, since the robbery offence on August 18, 2018, Ms Doyle had committed a number of offences, including burglary and theft, with the most recent thefts taking place in November 2019.
"I know Ms Doyle a number of years. She was in Longford when I originally came to Longford. She has a chaotic lifestyle. She has two children - a son and a daughter. She was married but that marriage has broken down. She's had a number of relationships since then," Det Galvin explained.
When addressed by Barrister for the Defence Mr Gerard Groarke, Det Galvin said that there was no physical injury to Mr Lynch following the incident.
Mr Groarke then asked Det Galvin if he was aware of the violence that Ms Doyle went through in her younger years at the hands of her local community when she came out as bisexual.
"I don't know anything about that. I've had dealings with her before and she never said any of that," said Det Galvin.
When called to the stand, Ms Doyle told Judge Johnson that she has been off alcohol for 19 months and has not taken drugs since August 2019.
"I'm stable at the moment. Last August was the last time I used drugs," she said.
Addressing a number of thefts that took place in November 2019, Mr Groarke asked Ms Doyle if she had been drunk or on drugs when she committed the offences.
"I'm not sure," she replied.
"How can you tell me you're off drugs since August if you can't remember if you were on them in November?" Judge Keenan Johnson asked.
Ms Doyle clarified that she was referring to offences committed in November 2018. When questioned by Mr Groarke, she said that she was "probably looking for food" when she committed theft in Cara Pharmacy but insisted she wasn't drunk or on drugs.
When Mr Groarke brought up the theft in Boots pharmacy, Ms Doyle said "I don't remember that. I just don't remember."
"Were you on alcohol or drugs?" Mr Groarke asked again.
"I'm really not sure," she replied.
Mr Groarke explained to the court that Ms Doyle was 16 when she got married. She had two children - Jenny (18) and David (23) - through that marriage but, due to violence and a relationship she'd had with a woman, her marriage broke down. Ms Doyle realised she was bisexual, Mr Groarke explained, and when she came out, her community attacked her daily.
"I had a massive breakdown and that's where the problem was. I forgot how to read. I forgot how to drive. I turned to alcohol and moved to Athlone with my two children," Ms Doyle explained, adding that her daughter, Jenny, has her own problems with her mental health and that she wants to be there to help her with her 18-month-son.
"When I had the massive breakdown, Jenny was in care for three years and she got pregnant. She has a baby now called David. He's 18 months old. She's had post natal depression and I help her. I take the baby off her when she needs help. This is what I stay alive for."
"How do you get to Athlone?" Judge Johnson asked.
"Gerard has a car," said Ms Doyle, referring to her current partner, Gerard Britton, with whom she has been living.
"And I have a disability pass for the bus. My left foot and my left hand are partially paralysed from a beating I got," she added.
Ms Doyle indicated that, as part of her sentence, she would appreciate some sort of drug rehabilitation programme so that, when she gets out, she can help to raise her grandson.
"I don't want the same thing to happen to the baby as happened to my two kids. They were in the system and I feel like I was let down by the system," she told the judge.
"I had a massive breakdown. I forgot how to read and drive. I felt like an outcast. I offended but I'm trying my best. Jenny is young and vulnerable. She's self-harming and I'm afraid for the baby," she added, asking the judge to take the hardship in her life into consideration.
"Do you have anything to say to Mr Lynch?" Mr Geraghty asked.
"No," she replied.
"Do you accept the jury's verdict?" Mr Geraghty asked.
"No," Ms Doyle replied.
Local furniture store owner, Pat Lynch, had prepared a victim impact statement for the court, which Detective Garda Galvin handed in but which, at Mr Lynch's request, was not read aloud to the court.
Judge Johnson noted the stress that the incident and the trial had caused Mr Lynch and said that, while Mr Lynch was not present in court, his son, Kevin, was in attendance.
"I want to commend Mr (Pat) Lynch for his stoicism in the face of adversity," said Judge Johnson.
"He's clearly a decent man. People like him are an inspiration to us all. It is an appalling state of affairs that he was subjected to this violence and robbery. This was a nasty offence. Ms Doyle picked a vulnerable individual. She has an appalling record and she's at high risk of re-offending - that's evident by the fact that she offended while she was on bail for this offence.
"There has been no attempt at recompense made to Mr Lynch and no expression of remorse. Ms Doyle doesn't enjoy the significant benefit of mitigation that would have attracted to a plea of guilt. The accused did not cooperate with gardaí," he continued.
Mitigating factors include Ms Doyle's chaotic lifestyle, Judge Johnson noted, taking into account her abuse of drugs and alcohol, her violent marriage, her disability for injuries she suffered at the hands of others, her breakdown in the UK and the fact that she has two children and a grandchild.
"If she's incarcerated, she can't look after her grandson," he said.
"She's in a relationship with a man called Gerard Britton, which may be a stabilising factor in her life. She said she's been alcohol and drug free since August, but committed offences since and can't remember if she was intoxicated at the time.
"She looks in much better shape than she was before. It's clear she's not drinking at the moment and she clearly has a stable regime in prison, which is a hopeful sign for the future," said the judge, turning to Ms Doyle.
"Ms Doyle, you're 42 years of age now and you owe it to yourself, your two children and your grandchild to grab hold of your life. If you keep taking drugs and alcohol, you'll spend your life in and out of prison."
When considering a sentence, Judge Johnson noted that this particular offence was on the lower end of the scale. He said that, while the offence was "disgraceful", it was minor compared to other cases dealt with in the Circuit Court.
He also noted that Mr Lynch suffered no lasting physical injury and that, despite the stress and fear he had suffered, he was dealing with it. The sum of money taken from Mr Lynch was never recovered but it was a small amount, which the judge also took into consideration.
"The maximum sentence for robbery is life imprisonment," Judge Johnson explained.
"For an offence on the lower end of the scale, before mitigation, the sentence goes down to five years. Taking mitigation into account, that goes down to three years. I'm imposing a sentence of three years with the final year suspended for seven years."
Judge Johnson attached a number of conditions to the sentence, including the condition that she keep the peace for seven years after she is released from prison. She must also remain drug and alcohol free, take part in a rehab programme and can have no contact with Pat Lynch or any member of his family.
He concluded his sentence by backdating it to the date the trial started, which was January 16, 2020.