A man who, along with an armed gang, barged his way into a house and threatened its occupants with a machete has been sentenced to eight years in prison with the final three years suspended.
The Galway Circuit Criminal Court heard yesterday how the terrifying incident had come about as a result of a “turf war” over drug dealing in the area and that Thomas Sweeney had wanted to frighten a man whom he believed responsible for selling drugs to his sister. The 28-year-old with an address at 214 Castlepark, Ballybane, entered a guilty plea to the charge of aggravated burglary while in possession of a machete on January 9, 2009, at a house in Fana Glas, Ballybane.
Garda Gerard Murphy gave evidence that at 8pm four armed and masked men entered the house which was occupied at the time by a woman, her 21-year-old daughter, and a young child. The daughter heard loud banging at the door. When she opened it she was confronted by a male carrying a firearm.
The male carrying the firearm barged through into the living room where he struck the mother with his fist and pointed the firearm directly in her face. The defendant held his machete threateningly over the daughter’s head. Garda Murphy said that the four men were continually shouting the name of a man, an ex-partner of the mother, and who had been the intended target of the attack.
The court heard that the man with the firearm shouted at Sweeney to “cut her [the daugher] up”. Garda Murphy said that the two main offenders had been the man with the firearm and Sweeney, while the other two stood guard at the living room door. He said that the two women repeatedly said that the man they were looking for no longer lived at the house, however, the threats continued “to rain down on them”. Garda Murphy then said that the assailants demanded to know where money and drugs were in the house. They were told that there was none. He said that the younger woman recognised Sweeney when the scarf fell from his face, and that when he realised he had been identified he called off the gang and they left.
Garda Murphy further explained that it is believed that the incident occurred “over a turf war for the sale and supply of drugs in the east side of Galway city”. He then said that a warrant had been obtained and the defendant was arrested at his home. Sweeney failed to co-operate with gardai initially and failed to give the names of the gang members.
Sweeney had told gardai that the reason he had gone to the house was that he had a grievance with the man he thought lived there, and that this grievance was about the selling of drugs in the area and in particular to his sister who is addicted to heroin. Garda Murphy said that the victims were very traumatised, that they have since moved, but that gardai are currently investigation allegations of on-going intimidation.
Regarding Sweeney’s background, Garda Murphy said that he was well known to the gardai and that he had 74 previous convictions which included theft, burglary, and robbery.
Defence barrister John Hogan pointed out that there was no previous for assault or anything related to weapons. He then put it to Garda Murphy that his client did not strike anyone even when he was shouted at to “cut her”. Garda Murphy replied that although Sweeney did not use the machete he did hold it over the woman’s head in a threatening manner. He then added that Sweeney later expressed remorse, that he did not know that there would be women and a child in the house.
After hearing the evidence, Judge Raymond Groarke said that it was hard to imagine a more serious case as it involved premeditation, serious weapons, and threats. Judge Groarke then imposed a term of imprisonment of eight years with the final three years suspended on condition that Sweeney enter into a bond to keep the peace for three years following his release, that he be placed under the auspices of the probation services, that he undertakes counselling and treatment, and stays out of trouble. The sentence was backdated to July 26, 2009.