South American escapees get nine months in Athlone

Two brothers who escaped from a Venezuelan jail after their attempt to smuggle cocaine in 2012 resulted in 11-year sentences, were jailed for nine months this week (May 7 ) for mugging a couple and defecating in a cell. Leigh (26 ) and Dermot (22 ) O’Neill, from Parnell Square, Athlone, described in court by Judge Seamus Hughes as “professional criminals”, were convicted of assaulting a couple in the early hours of October 13, 2011 in the forecourt of their apartment block on the Dublin Road in Athlone as the man and his girlfriend waited for the electronic gates to close. The brothers took their jackets, a rucksack, and a handbag after knocking them to the ground, but were soon identified by the victims further up the Dublin Road from the squad car they called, and found in possession of the very same items. When arrested they got very aggressive and attempted to break up the squad car, and while in the station that night, both brothers urinated and defecated in the cells. In their defence, solicitor Tony McLynn told the court that only Leigh had a previous conviction - for a public order offence in 2007 - and that neither had come to Garda notice since. He also said that the brothers had managed to raise €400 in compensation for their victims. However, when he tried to use their “mental health issues” in mitigation, Judge Huges noted the “PTSD” on their medical report, and asked how this came about. “It related to time incarcerated in Venezuela,” said Mr McLynn, which piqued the judge’s interest. “It’s what we saw when we were away. We saw murders and stabbings in the jail ...we escaped from hell,” declared Dermot. His brother, however, was less forthcoming when asked what quantity of drugs he had been convicted for, and whether he was “considered a target because you fumbled the ball”. Mr McLynn suggested somebody “more sinister that had put them up to it” and that “an escape of sorts was made”, but did not elaborate any further. “Your plea is self-serving, you didn’t show a scintilla of remorse, and you answered none of my questions. I am satisfied you are professional criminals,” said the judge. He sentenced each brother to nine months in jail for the mugging, with concurrent sentences for their subsequent behaviours. In August 2012 they each received an 11-year sentence when convicted for attempting to smuggle an estimated 1.5kg of cocaine out of Venezuela that March, yet sensationally returned to Athlone in July 2013. They were arrested after a man they had shared a hotel room with was pronounced dead after six of the 90 balloons of cocaine he had swallowed had burst. The dead man Martin Beirne (27 ) from Boyle, Co Roscommon had been on the run from Ireland for three and a half years since skipping out on a drug dealing trial in Sligo. The brothers had sought assistance for him before attempting to flee, and after arrest Leigh passed 92 balloons of cocaine, weighing just under 0.75kg, with an estimated street value of around €50,000. No cocaine was found in Dermot O’Neill.

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