Abigail Rieley

Writer and Author

Two Nights Out, Two Very Different Crimes.

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.

4 Comments

  1. concerned parent

    9th November 2009 at 9:51 pm

    Seans attempt at defending himself and his friends was not the cause of his death. What caused his death was the production of two knives by Finn Colclough and the ultimate use of them to stab Sean.

    • Abigail

      9th November 2009 at 10:07 pm

      According to the evidence given by Eric Treacy, Sean’s friend, Sean was not someone who would walk away from a confrontation. I’m not saying that this instinct resulted in his death simply that taking several steps forward and engaging in a scuffle with Colcough who was plainly armed with two large knives, contributed to the tragic circumstances of that night. This is in no way saying that Sean brought about his own death but was an unfortunate participant in this dreadful sequence of events.

  2. I think you are missing the point here somewhat. It could be viewed from Judge Carney’s comments at the trial that he viewed the act of agression of going into the house and returning with two knives to be completely out of proportion to the threat (perceived or otherwise). There are two potential impulses when someone comes out of a house in an aggressive manner 1) Run 2) is to stand there and try to work out what is going on. Unfortunately Sean stood there and stated “you should put those away as they are dangerous” (or something similar) the only bit of sense that night.

    It is like saying if I come out of my house with a gun and shoot you, you contributed to your downfall by not running away. The statement you make is frankly ludicrous. If the perpetrator of Sean’s death had come from a less salubrious part of Dublin I am sure that your comdemnation would have been more severe.

    The fact is that knife crime has been increasing over recent years and with the exception of a few “Red Top” newspapers this issue has not been highlighted enough. The production of knives, a potentially deadly weapon, should automatically carry a life sentence and the charge of murder. Why else would you produce a knife other than to inflict maximum damage. Or more simply put, if you perceive a threat stay inside and call the Gardai…

    Colclough’s actions that night were completely out of proportion to reality…

    Unfortunately two mothers are without their sons for another Christmas fortunately for Ms Gardner she will one day have her son back… There has also never been any expression of remorse for what happened other than the message read out in court by Colclough’s mother.

    • Abigail

      11th November 2009 at 3:59 pm

      The Fin Colclough trial, out of all the trials I’ve covered has certainly aroused the most impassioned responses. It was a particularly tragic outcome to a night of celebration and it is clear that Sean Nolan had so many loyal and loving friends and family who cannot be expected to see the case in any terms other than their horrendous loss. I on the other hand came to the case in the course of my work. I sat through it as I have sat through dozens of other murders, each one a tragedy for those involved.

      I’m basing my comments in this blog on what I saw during my daily attendance of the trial. Finn Colclough was accused of murder and convicted of manslaughter. The post mortem evidence was consistent with the situation described by all the witnesses – a scuffle in which one party was holding two knives. There were no repeated stabs, no frenzied attack. Colclough might have been waving the knives about when he came out of the house but he wasn’t in the scuffle that followed or Sean’s wounds would have been different. The defense asked Professor Cassidy, the State Pathologist, whether the wounds were consistent with Colclough’s account of attempting to push Sean away from him while still holding the knives. She said that the position of the two wounds Sean suffered would have been consistent with that. This wasn’t a typical knife crime even though the result was as bad but that has nothing to do with the address of the guy holding the knives.

      There’s no doubt that Finn Colclough’s reaction was over the top, the introduction of any weapon is always so, but I’m not viewing him any differently because of his address, each trial has it’s own peculiarities and all I can do is write what I observe.

      It’s unlikely that we’re ever going to agree on this subject. We’re coming at it from two completely different standpoints. An objective view can be hard to stomach if you’re personally connected to the case but as an observer I have little choice but to be objective.

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