*The incident occurred in April 2019.
A 34-year old man has escaped jail for his one-punch assault at an acute psychiatric unit on “a frail and vulnerable” 81 year old patient that left his victim with a brain injury.
At Ennis Circuit Court, Judge Francis Comerford said that he accepted that Brendan McCormack was in the throes of a psychotic episode when he punched Gearoid McHugh at around 8.30am at the acute psychiatric unit at Ennis General Hospital on April 24th 2019.
Mr McHugh of Ballykilty, Quin, Co Clare and formerly of Co Donegal who was already extremely ill prior to the assault died at Ennis General Hospital more than four weeks later on May 28th, 2019.
Mr McCormack pleaded guilty to the single charge of assault causing harm to Mr McHugh on April 24th 2019.
In his judgment, Judge Comerford stated that it hasn’t been established that there was any acceleration in the death of Mr McHugh as a result of the blow from Mc McCormack of Croke Street, Thurles and he couldn’t speculate on that issue.
Mr McHugh fell out of his wheelchair later in the morning of the McCormack assault.
Judge Comerford imposed an eight month suspended prison term on Mr McCormack with the condition that he remain under the care of his local mental health services and stay away from illegal drugs and alcohol.
After Judge Comerford concluded his sentence, Mr McCormack asked “can I go home now?” and in reply Judge Comerford said “yes”.
The court was told that Irish army veteran, Mr McHugh was being treated for Huntington’s disease, dementia and psychosis during his hospital admission and had been admitted to the acute psychiatric unit in Ennis on April 13th 2019.
In her post mortem, Asst State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster found that the cause of death for Mr McHugh was bronchial pneumonia complicated by neuro degenerative disease and traumatic brain injury with chronic subdural haemorrhage due to a fall.
Counsel for the State, Lorcan Connolly BL said that Mr McHugh had a very extensive brain tumour that carried a grim prognosis.
Mr McCormack was only in the acute psychiatric unit three hours before the assault after being brought there by Gardai as an involuntary admission.
The only eye witness account from a patient stated that Mr McCormack hit Mr McHugh so hard on the side of the face “that he nearly lifted him off the ground”.
A psychiatric report carried out on Mr McCormack in August 2022 determined that on the morning of the assault Mr McCormack was undergoing an acute psychotic episode and “did not know what he was doing was wrong and was not aware of the possible consequences at the time”.
The deluded Mr McCormack at the time told a nurse after the assault that he assaulted Mr McHugh because he thought was a paedophile.
There was no truth to that claim and the two men were not known to each other before the assault.
Judge Comerford said that Mr McHugh had two sisters living in Co Clare at the time and “they thought their brother would have been in a place where he would have been safe and instead he suffered an assault and that would have caused them distress”.
The two sisters have since died and Judge Comerford stated that Mr McCormack struck a very hard blow against a “frail and vulnerable” 81 year old man causing him to fall. Judge Comerford said that the assault had left Mr McHugh with a brain injury.
Judge Comerford said that the assault was “a very significant” Section 3 assault causing harm case but added “I can’t put it at the top level”.
Judge Comerford said that he didn’t believe there would be any justice in imposing an immediate custodial sentence.
The judge said that Mr McHugh’s vulnerability was the primary aggravating factor in the case.
In terms of mitigation, Judge Comerford stated that there was no premeditation, no weapon and was a single blow.
Judge Comerford said that Mr McCormack had pleaded guilty and had shown remorse for his actions “and does regret the harm he did”
Judge Comerford said that mental disorder was at the core of the case and that Mr McCormack was in the throes of a psychotic episode when the assault occurred.