One of the most shocking things about the Drimnagh murder trial was the youth of the person accused of a savage, brutal attack that left two innocent men dead in seconds. David Curran was only 17 when he murdered Pawel Kalite and Marius Szwajkos, too young to be named in the initial reports of his arrest.
He young enough to still be a young man when he’s released from his life sentence and when that verdict was handed down, as I’ve already mentioned here, he looked a lot younger than his now 19 years. When I first started to cover the trial, in the second week, I initially thought, just based on the faces of the two accused sitting in front of me, that Curran was the one accused of the lesser crime of joint enterprise.
I’ve sat near a fair number of killers over the past few years and it’s still surprising how ordinary those convicted of killing another human being tend to look but when the killer is still little more than a child it’s all the more shocking.
I’ve written at length here about Finn Colclough, who was 17 when he fatally stabbed 18-year-old Sean Nolan while Sean was out celebrating the end of secondary school. Colclough was convicted of manslaughter not murder and earlier this year the Court of Criminal Appeal reduced his 10 year sentence by suspending the last two years of it. It was a trial that provoked a vocal reaction from those who observed it. There was, and I think still is, a perception that justice was not served in some way because Colclough came from a well off family and lived on the exclusive Waterloo Road in Dublin 4.
I’ve always said that manslaughter was the correct verdict in that trial and I haven’t changed my mind. But after the Drimnagh trial I can’t help comparing Finn Colclough and David Curran. Both had been mixing their drinks and both had smoked cannabis. Both could perhaps have done with considerably more parental supervision and both took an action in the heat of the moment that resulted in an innocent man’s death.
There are, of course, several key differences that go a long way to explaining the different sentences. Sean Nolan died from two stab wounds that, according the the pathologist, were consistent with the knives still being held while Colclough tried to push Sean away from him in a struggle. Pawel Kalite and Marius Szwajkos died from almost identical wounds to the temple, caused by a screwdriver wielded at head height. Curran’s attack showed a devastating aggression that obviously left the jury in no doubt that his actions were murder not manslaughter.
But you can’t help playing “What If” with the two cases. What if Curran had come from Waterloo Road not Drimnagh. It’s unlikely he would have spent his days robbing and getting out of his head on benzodiazepines but what’s to say he wouldn’t have still been binge drinking and getting stoned on joints. He might not have left school so abruptly at the age of 15.
Colclough had managed to stay in school, despite crippling OCD and ADHD when he was younger, because of the intervention of his parents. If Colclough had been born in Drimnagh rather than the Waterloo Road would his crime still have been manslaughter? Would he have acted the same and would the jury have reacted the same?
I’ve commented before on the similarities between cases but I suppose this time I’m more interested in the differences. Both were 17 when they took a life and both looked startlingly young and vulnerable in court. But Colclough faced his trial with his parents sitting with him in the court while Curran faced the verdict alone. Curran did a horrible, grotesque and brutal thing and took two lives for no reason but because of where he’s from, the life he was living, we assume he is a feral monster, a simmering time bomb waiting to provide a cautionary tale of youth gone wild. If he had been born into more affluent surroundings I wonder would the jury have found his defence teams explanation of the mind warping effects of benzodiazepines and alcohol more palatable.
The verdicts were what they were and the facts of the two cases stand but it’s interesting to compare the two trials. I’ve received a lot of criticism on this blog for showing any compassion for Colclough but I notice that hasn’t been the case so far with Curran. Considering he is guilty of the worse crime I think that’s interesting. I’m not coming to any conclusions on this just asking some question that might not even have answers. But I know that whenever I cover the trial of someone so young I start to wonder…what if.