A Falcarragh-man who bit a man's ear off in a late night chip shop fracas, was given a two year prison sentence at Letterkenny Circuit Court.
Shaun McGee of Lower Dunmore pleaded guilty to the charge of assault causing harm to Maurice McGeehan of Millside, Fintown, when he appeared before last week’s sitting of Letterkenny Circuit Court for sentencing.
Sergeant Michael Carroll told Judge John O’Hagan that shortly after 4am on January 2 last year he was on patrol in the Magheraclogher area of Bunbeg. A disco in the local nightclub had just finished and there were a number of patrons outside the ‘Greim Gasta’ chip shop. He was alerted to an altercation in the chip shop by Garda Malcolm McGee and when he went to investigate he found Shaun McGee on top of the injured party, on the floor, with his ear in his mouth.
McGee was immediately arrested and taken outside. Sgt Carroll then went to find McGeehan’s ear and told the court: “A lady in the chip shop had put the ear in a bag of frozen peas. I was handed the bag and took the injured party to the doctor.”
The defendant was left in the custody of the other gardai who were on duty before being taken to Milford Garda Station.
The court heard that McGeehan kept asking Sgt Carroll about his ear.
“I was afraid to tell him that his ear was missing,” he said.
The Judge asked Sgt Carroll to explain how exactly McGeehan lost his ear. “It was chewed off the side of his head,” he replied.
A medical report from Dr DeBruin was read to the court by Ms Patricia McLaughlin (BL). It stated that the injured party’s ear had been “cleanly bitten off, and the “external ear passage exposed”.
Judge O’Hagan asked if it had been possible to reattach McGeehan’s ear and was told his ear had to be sewn on to his abdomen and re-grown.
Peter Nolan (BL), for McGee, said McGeehan underwent an eight-hour operation six weeks ago to have the ear sewn on to the side of his head but it is “drastically deformed”. McGeehan also suffers from ‘tinnitus’, a continual ringing in his ears.
The court heard that on the night in question McGeehan was a “totally innocent party”, and intervened to stop a row between the defendant and another party.
Sgt Carroll told the court: “It is unusual to see an innocent bystander so badly injured.”
He added: “Mr McGeehan is a man of impeccable character and is a well-trained and highly qualified chef”.
McGee, the court heard, is currently unemployed but had been engaged in work from time to time on the family farm and in the construction industry.
To date, the defendant has paid €6,000 to the injured party and Judge O’Hagan was told that he has a further €15,000 to offer Mr McGeehan. The court heard that Mr McGeehan’s medical bills are already €35,000.
Speaking on behalf of his client, Mr Nolan told the court that he accepted “without reservation” being responsible for the appalling assault which took place, adding that it was totally out of character.
He said his client suffered from bouts of depression arising from the death of his friend in a car crash in 1997. He added that in 2000, McGee was also the victim of an assault at Falcarragh Golf Club which left him with severe injuries to his back and groin area.
Judge O’Hagan was also told that McGee has a history of attendance at the psychiatric unit at Letterkenny General Hospital.
A number of testaments affirming McGee’s otherwise good character were read to the court. They came from Fr Sean O’Gallachoir; Psychotherapy counsellor, Liam Cannon; Chairman of Cloughaneely GAA Club, George Montgomery; and Cllr Joe Kelly.
The defendant’s sister, Margaret McGee, a lecturer at a Dublin university was given to opportunity to outline the impact these events have had on his family.
She explained he was deeply affected by a number of incidents since the death of his friend which led to the deterioration of his health and said her family had “pulled together” to care for him. She said also the family were very much aware of the horrific injuries sustained by Maurice McGeehan and were “devastated by the entire incident”.
Impact on injured party
The court then heard from Maurice McGeehan who travelled from England to attend the sentencing. “It affected me a lot, after the attack I didn’t eat or sleep for a long time. I have to take sleeping tablets every night because of the tinnitus,” he said.
“Every day I look at the scars, I see them in the mirror and I think of him and the attack. Every day I try to get away from it, but I can’t.”
He also said that his work as a chef in a busy kitchen is also made increasingly difficult because of the constant ringing in his ears.
When asked how he felt about his physical appearance, Mr McGeehan replied: “For the first two months I never left the house. There was a lot of scarring and because it was an open wound I couldn’t cover it. People were staring at me on the street and everywhere I went. I grew my hair long to try and hide my ear.”
Explaining the procedure to re-attach his ear, Mr McGeehan explained: “It was a very difficult procedure. The surgeon said it was one of the most complicated he had ever done because of the veins in the side of my head.”
He also said that he developed a scalp infection which almost resulted in the complete loss of his ear.
When Judge O’Hagan told McGeehan the defendant proposed to give him a further €15,000 he replied: “Every cent helps, but it doesn’t come near the cost of my medical expenses. And you can’t put a price on all the trauma that I have had to go through.”
He concluded that he is in a solid relationship and his girlfriend has been like “a rock of support in every way”.
Addressing Judge O’Hagan, Shaun McGee apologised for his actions. He added: “I accept full responsibility for what I did. It was down to too much drink and the psychological problems that I had.”
In coming to his conclusion, Judge O’Hagan stated: “On that fateful night Mr McGeehan was a totally innocent individual who saw trouble brewing and felt he could intervene. He suffered horrific injuries and his ear was clearly bitten off by the accused.”
Judge O’Hagan added that McGee, if tried by a judge and jury, would be facing the upper end of the maximum five year sentence.
“I note his early plea and co-operation with gardai but this does not bring back Mr McGeehan’s ear or his life before he lost it.”
Letters of support
Judge O’Hagan also noted the letters of support provided to the court and drew particular attention to the conclusion of the medical report from Dr Haley, Consultant Psychiatrist at Letterkenny General Hospital.
It stated that McGee suffers from “post traumatic stress disorder with mixed anxiety and depression”. It continued: “One feature of post traumatic stress disorder is over arousal making him hyper-vigilant and prone to over-reaction”.
It explained that McGee’s mental health problems would make him deal with a perceived threat with “excessive reactionary violence” which he would have little control over. The report added, however, that McGee’s condition would not substantially impair his mental capacity and he would have “full understanding of the consequences of his actions”.
Noting the aggravating factors of the case Judge O’Hagan said that he found the level of violence very disturbing as well as the fact that McGee had not dealt with his problems prior to this incident. The doctor’s report shows he knew what he was doing.
Before passing sentence Judge O’Hagan remarked that he found himself in a very difficult situation. He said: “I don’t think compensation is enough.” Adding that he could not impose a suspended sentence because of the seriousness of the charge.
“I am compelled to impose a custodial sentence. This was a very, very serious assault.”
He imposed a two-year prison sentence, suspending the last six months on the grounds that €15,000 is paid to the injured party.