Mullingar Circuit Court

Athlone man sentenced for 'nightmare attack' on sister-in-law

by Tom Tuite

A father of four, who repeatedly punched and kicked his grieving sister-in-law in the head during a "savage" assault in Athlone, has been handed a two-year prison sentence.

The tensions and events surrounding the drink-fuelled attack last year by Patrick Sherlock (37) on his late wife's sister, Patricia McDonnell, were described by Judge Keenan Johnson as "a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions".

At Mullingar Circuit Criminal Court, the judge said it was a nightmare attack and that the mother of 16, who lost consciousness, suffered a broken jaw and extensive facial injuries, was "truly inspirational and fearless".

The remarks came after Ms McDonnell opened up in an emotionally charged hearing, and the background to the attack, the death of her sister, as well as losing two sons within three years were laid bare.

However, she said she did not want her six foot-five attacker to be imprisoned and hoped he could be reunited with his children.

Mr Sherlock, a mechanic with an address at St Paul's Terrace, Athlone, pleaded guilty to causing serious harm to Patricia McDonnell, then 46, on April 7, 2023, in the Iona Park area.

The defendant, who was visibly upset as he apologised in court, had been had been married to the victim’s sister Christine, who died tragically in 2022.

Today (Friday), Judge Keenan Johnson imposed a five-year sentence but suspended the final three years with strict conditions.

He acknowledged that this sentence may appear lenient but stressed it was not a precedent and that he imposed it due to the exceptional circumstances of the case.

He also ordered Mr Sherlock to pay €12,000 compensation and backdated the sentence until April last year, when he was remanded in custody.

Outlining the background to the incident, Garda Tom Kelly said the grieving victim had gone to her sister's home after she learned of the death of her son, Martin, in a traffic accident the previous day.

However, within hours, there was a row with another woman. There were also taunts against Mr Sherlock in relation to the death of his wife a year earlier.

John Shortt SC, defending, said this "sparked this eruption in violence".

During the assault, Ms McDonnell suffered extensive facial injuries with long-term effects, but she told Judge Keenan Johnson she did not want to see her brother-in-law jailed because "his children need him in their lives."

The defendant had been in custody since the date of his arrest in April of last year.

Garda Kelly agreed with prosecution counsel John Hayden that, at 4.50am on April 7 last year, Ms McDonnell was lying prone on the ground and bleeding from her head.

Patrick Sherlock had been drinking in pubs earlier and drove to the Iona Park area after 4am. The court heard that "something was said" during an argument involving several family members, angering Sherlock.

The victim was knocked to the ground, and the court saw video evidence of her attacker delivering "full force" kicks to Ms McDonnell's head three times. He also punched her twice to the head as she lay motionless on the ground.

A witness heard him saying, "I told you I would get you".

The court was told that Mr Sherlock had been the subject of unfounded rumours in the community, and on social media, that he was to blame for his wife's accidental death. Her death was ruled as accidental asphyxiation, and no foul play was involved.

Just before the attack on Ms McDonnell, there had been a row, and the victim was saying, "Where's Paddy? Where's the murderer?"

When she went outside, she heard a car coming very fast and another person pushed her and told the accused "Paddy, she is after stabbing me".

The court heard that Mr Sherlock jumped out of the car. Ms McDonnell ran but was knocked to the ground, and she did not recall events after that.

Mr Sherlock handed himself in the following day and told Gardai he had four or five beers and three vodkas before driving to the scene. Garda Kelly agreed with counsel that Mr Sherlock initially claimed "he had only tripped Patricia, and that is how she ended up on the ground".

However, once they showed him the video footage, "he held his hands up" and expressed outrage at his behaviour.

In the interview, he addressed the issue of others talking about the death of his wife and how he took great exception to that.

In court, he apologised, saying he was ashamed and that he wanted help for addiction and bereavement issues.

In a poignant statement, the victim recalled; "My son died a day before the attack, and because I was hospitalised on April 7, 2023, I was unable to attend my son's funeral.

"This has severely affected my grieving process. To this day, I find it difficult to accept his death. I need constant psychological support and reassurance in dealing with his loss."

She said in the prepared victim impact statement that the defendant was the father of his sister's four children, "and his children need him in their lives." She said she would accept the judge's ruling if he decided Sherlock had spent enough time in prison.

Ms McDonnell, whose mental health has suffered since the attack, also got into the witness box to say, "I wouldn't like to see Paddy suffer. To be honest, the two of us have been through an awful lot."

She accepted there was no foul play in the death of her sister.

"I will get over my injuries; as I said, I am still grieving for my son. It's not just one. My other son died a year before that in a car crash, too. I've lost two sons, I've lost a sister within three years, and then this happened.

"You know, what happened, happened. None of us can turn back time. You just have to move on," she added.

"For Paddy as well, he does deserve a life, kids. I know what it is like to lose children, and I wouldn't like to see Paddy lose contact with his children's lives. It is the worst thing that could ever happen."

She added that seeing the accused go home would not bother her because his children needed him, and he was a good father who previously had a good relationship with her late sister.

The court heard she could not collect 13 social welfare payments because she was bedridden after the attack. Medical expenses, including teeth reconstruction, came to €9,290.

Choking back tears, Mr Sherlock apologised in court, said he was ashamed and would get help for his own addiction and grief problems, and he paid €3,000 over in court to his victim.

A probation report stated he was at a moderate risk of reoffending.

He had also completed anger management, restorative justice and victim awareness courses while on remand in prison, and had done a Red Cross overdose prevention programme.

He had convictions for assaults between 2002 and 2005 and was jailed for a year, but the Garda agreed with Mr Shortt SC (with Eugene Deering BL) that, since then, Mr Sherlock had been law-abiding for 18 years and never came to more Garda attention until the attack on Ms McDonnell.

He also attained a qualification, married and raised a family, and was a well-respected mechanic, the court was told.