On Friday, Dane Pearse was sentenced to a mandatory life sentence for the murder of Google employee Mark Spellman. During the two week trial the jury heard that Mr Spellman was returning home from a night out when he was fatally stabbed by Pearse.
Most of the press who sat through the trial had remarked at some point about the similarities between the Pearse trial and the one of Finn Colclough some weeks before. In both cases a young man out for an evening of celebration met their death when a chance encounter played out to a tragic ending.
But these two trials had very different outcomes. Pearse was convicted of murder after the jury heard that he had returned armed with a decorative knife after Mr Spellman had kicked him to the ground in an earlier meeting. Colclough on the other hand was convicted of manslaughter after the jury in his trial heard that he had come out of his house holding a knife in each hand and Sean Nolan, the deceased, had confronted him taking up to four steps towards him
Sean Nolan died after celebrating completing his secondary education. Mark Spellman was heading home with friends after a night out intending to spend the rest of the evening playing Playstation games. Both were in high spirits. Neither young man deserved to lose their lives.
But despite the similarities between the two crimes there are some very definite differences, differences that led to the two differing sentences. Both cases had a whiff of the traditional north/south Dublin rivalry. Colclough was from the exclusive Waterloo Road, Nolan from the more working class Fairview on the north of the city.
In the more recent trial the locations were reversed (although this time both south of the Liffey). Pearce grew up in working class Islandbridge while Spellman hailed from the salubrious coastal suburb of Dalkey.
But in both trials the old geographical and social preconceptions were less important that they might have seemed at first. Both trials had their own peculiarities that guided the juries to their different verdicts.
In the earlier trial of Finn Colclough we heard the story of the tragic meeting between Nolan, on a 4am search for a girl he knew, and Colclough, who suffered from OCD and heightened nervous responses. Tragically, Nolan’s response to square up to Colclough’s frantic attempt to scare him off led to his untimely death.
Pearse’s story was different. He encountered Spellman for the first time when Spellman called out to him and his girlfriend as they ran down the road. By most accounts Spellman was simply fooling around as he had been doing all the way home. However things developed, there was a confrontation and Pearse ended up tipped over onto his backside when Spellman stuck out his foot at chest height in an approximation of a karate kick.
Pearse denied that hurt pride was his motive but it didn’t take him long to run back home and grab a souvenir bat and an ornamental knife from his bedroom. After a brief struggle Spellman lay dying in a neighbour’s garden.
Both Sean Nolan and Mark Spellman had received two stab wounds when they died but their post mortems revealed very different stories. Nolan had only two wounds, on either side of his body. One had cut through his lung and sliced his heart, killing him within the hour. The wounds were consistent with simultaneous strikes and their were no tell tale defensive wounds indicating a lightening fast exchange.
Spellman’s body on the told a different story. Both major stab marks could have been fatal. One came from the front and the other had entered his back. He had defensive cuts on his hands and forearms, the signs of a struggle for possession of the knife.
After the verdict had been announced on Sunday, Mark Spellman’s little sister Emma told the court in her victim impact statement that she had lost her “goofy” brother and that at his death “a little piece of all of us died too.”
Over the weekend Dane Pearse started his life sentence. Finn Colclough will have to wait until December to learn how long he will serve in prison. The two cases might have a superficial similarity but a closer look shows the differences. For the Spellman and Nolan families on the other hand, the outcome was the same. They have both lost a part of them and will have to live with the effects of those two night’s out for ever.