The jail sentence for the man who brandished a large knife as he ‘encouraged violence’ outside a house party where 20-year-old student Cameron Blair was stabbed to death was increased on Tuesday after a successful state appeal.
Scott O’Connor (20) – whom the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) described as the instigator of events outside the party – was sentenced to five years in prison including three years suspended after pleading guilty in January last year to the Central Criminal Court for committing violent disturbance in Bandon Road in Cork City on January 16, 2020.
O’Connor, of Churchfield Square, Cork City, also pleaded guilty to producing an article capable of causing serious injury during a dispute, namely a knife, in a manner likely to unlawfully intimidate another person on the same occasion, to appear before the Central Criminal Court in January 2021.
The DPP then appealed Judge David Keane’s sentence on the grounds that the three-year suspended portion was “unduly lenient”.
Anne Rowland SC, for the DPP, had previously told the Court of Appeal that the sentence represented a “substantial departure from the norm, given the unusual and serious circumstances surrounding the case”.
In a judgment delivered on Tuesday by Judge Isobel Kennedy – sitting with Judge John Edwards, presiding, and Mr Patrick McCarthy – the three-judge tribunal said it agreed with the DPP and quashed O’s sentence. ‘Connor.
Noting that O’Connor had armed himself with a knife and encouraged “an abusive situation to develop,” Justice Kennedy said the then 18-year-old respondent was not the subject of no threat.
“It is clear that the unfortunate deceased did not participate in any violence, he simply tried to watch the front door, and the judge [Mr Justice Keane] correctly described his conduct as “resolutely open, [and] courteous’. That the events of the night led to his death is shocking and tragic.
By reducing the suspension portion of the sentence from three years to two years, and thereby increasing O’Connor’s jail term by one year, Justice Kennedy said the appeals court was trying to find the right balance “between the penal objective of the sentence and the concurrent objective of withdrawal of the offender’s reintegration”.
“This is a finely balanced case…and we consider that the judge erred in suspending such a significant portion of the five-year sentence, resulting in an actual prison sentence of two years,” said she explained.
After the judgment was delivered, Judge Edwards offered the court’s condolences to members of Mr Blair’s family who were seated in the public gallery. The Central Criminal Court had previously heard the offenses were committed outside a terraced house rented by a number of students.
The students had decided to have a pre-holiday party as part of UCC Freshers’ Week and there were about 50 people “coming and going” to the party at various times between 6:30 and 9:30 that evening.
A drunken homeless man, who had met three young people a short distance up the road, began knocking on the door of the house around 7 p.m. The homeless man was asked to leave after knocking on the door several times but as the door latch was damaged it could be easily pressed. A man who was renting the property told the drunk man to leave and he fell to the ground.
Three teenagers – O’Connor, a 17-year-old boy and a 14-year-old boy – had protested to the student who had refused the drunken man admission. The court heard that Cameron Blair, in an effort to defuse the situation, had invited the three youngsters to the party.
At an appeal hearing last month, Ms Rowland said O’Connor armed himself with a very large knife which he took from the kitchen and was then seen ‘wielding it , holding it high above his head” on the doorstep of the house. before Mr Blair was fatally stabbed.
During Ms Rowland’s submission, CCTV footage was played in court in which the killer of Mr Blair, who cannot be named as he is still a minor, was clearly seen banging a knife against his leg as he stood near O’Connor before the fateful scuffle. at the door of the house burst.
This minor pleaded guilty in March 2020 to the murder of Cameron and received a life sentence which will be reviewed in 2032.
“The DPP submits that the guilt of the accused [O’Connor] was extremely high as he was the instigator of events outside the party,” Ms Rowland continued.
Although Cameron Blair’s death could not be ‘kicked out’ of the respondent, Ms Rowland said the court could not rule on the appeal in ‘a vacuum’ and ignore the ‘febrile atmosphere’ in which O’Connor had played a major role. role in creating the night Mr. Blair was killed.
In response, Ronan Munro SC, for O’Connor, said his client had expressed extreme regret and remorse for his involvement in the events leading up to Mr Blair’s death. “He reacted, as he should have reacted, to what happened,” continued the lawyer.
“The offender had just turned 18, he had pleaded guilty to each of the two offenses early in the process and that had saved everyone a fairly long trial,” Munro added.
Mr Munro said his client was a first-time offender who had never been jailed before, and the question before the court was how long his sentence should be for the offence.
“It’s hard not to be emotional about this case. There are particular emotions aroused, especially by the event at the center of it,” he added.
“But for someone in his [client’s] position and with his experience, two years [custodial] punishment is a significant punishment,” he said.
Hearing submissions, Judge John Edwards said the circumstances surrounding the offense “are truly egregious”.
“A young man had lost his life,” Judge Edwards said. “A balance had to be struck, but the egregious nature of the offense had to be marked appropriately. There seems to be a bad balance. This seems to be the case that is made.
Sentencing O’Connor at the Central Criminal Court last July, Judge David Keane said the defendant had “deliberately armed himself” and threatened others with a knife in a “calculated and deliberate” manner, but did not had not used the weapon.
The judge noted that the act took place on a public road and O’Connor engaged in the confrontation for five minutes, which he called an “extended and prolonged time”. “At any time, he was free to walk away,” he added.
He said O’Connor’s actions were “entirely unprovoked” and directed at people who had shown him and his two companions “hospitality” during the evening.
“The purpose was to threaten and intimidate the students at home,” he remarked, adding that he had no intention on his part to kill anyone or cause serious harm.
Judge Keane described Cameron as unwavering, cheerful, open-minded, courteous and accommodating and someone who had shown the three teenagers nothing but kindness and hospitality that night.
Referring to the “utter absurdity” of the incident which amplified the “utter and indescribable tragedy of Cameron’s death”, the judge said he wished to send his sincere condolences to his family and friends for ” the tragic and irreplaceable loss of a handsome young man”.