09 Aug 2022

Teen who stabbed mum's ex-partner was protecting "the most important person in his life" - barrister

Third man appears in court charged with possession of weapon at Clonmel housing estate row

A teenager who stabbed his mother's ex-boyfriend to death during a domestic row was trying to protect "the most important person in his life", a barrister has told the Central Criminal Court.

Michael Bowman SC said his client Alexander Whelan "sprang to his mother's defence" having previously seen the deceased Bruno Rolandi assault his mother. He made a "split-second decision" which counsel said has had tragic consequences for him and the Rolandi family.

The court heard that Mr Rolandi was a violent heroin-user and that a former partner described him as an alcoholic. 

Alexander Whelan (19) had originally been charged with murdering Bruno Rolandi (56) at Green Road, Ballymoran, Edenderry, Co Offaly on November 19, 2017.

Mr Whelan, with an address at Green Road, Lumville, Edenderry pleaded guilty when a charge of manslaughter was put to him at the Central Criminal Court in November last year.

In victim impact statements read out by prosecution counsel Conor Devally SC on behalf of the deceased's family they said they "strongly disagree" with the description of Mr Rolandi, who they said was a "kind man" and a good father. They said they don't want revenge, but ask for "Irish justice to be done". 

Detective Sergeant Caroline Lyng told Mr Devally that Alexander lived with his mother Mary and his older brother Victor. His father died when he was two years old and his mother developed an "on and off" relationship with Mr Rolandi, an Italian national who lived in Ireland for many years.

There was "tension" in the house, she said, and the two brothers put this down to Mr Rolandi being there. On the night in question Mr Rolandi became "petulant" during a row over a WiFi password and the accused, who was 17 at the time, saw Mr Rolandi "pawing" at his mother's breasts.

He became upset and called Victor on the phone. The two boys and their mother went to the kitchen and talked about telling Mr Rolandi that he should no longer live with them but he came into the kitchen and there was a "kerfuffle" between Victor and the deceased.

During the struggle, Mr Rolandi, a "heavier and more able person," "laid hands" on Victor. Alexander then stabbed Mr Rolandi three times, the witness said. One wound went to a depth of 23 centimetres, damaged the heart and caused massive bleeding, leading to his death. The family immediately alerted the emergency services and Alexander "put his hands up". The account he gave to gardai, Det Sgt Lyng said, accorded with the evidence and with accounts given by his mother and brother.
He pleaded guilty to manslaughter at the earliest opportunity and has no previous convictions, nor has he previously come to the attention of gardai.

Despite being charged with the offence he "struggled on" to complete his leaving certificate and has since started working.
Det Sgt Lyng agreed with Michael Bowman SC for the defence that Victor called 999 that night immediately after the stabbing. When emergency services arrived they found Alexander "in a panic" trying to stop the bleeding in a bid to "undo the damage". 
She agreed when Mr Bowman said: "He was in a state of shock, panic, shaking like a leaf." At one point he was seen on his hands and knees uncontrollably sobbing.

Another witness at the scene said he overheard the boy's mother apologising for "putting him through this." Alexander replied: "This is not your fault. Please don't blame yourself. Promise me you won't blame yourself."

Det Gda Lyng further agreed that the deceased weighed over 100 kilos (16-and-a-half stone) and was more than six feet tall. Alexander was five feet seven inches at the time and "of a slight build and physically immature for a boy his age."

Detailing the history between Ms Whelan and the deceased, the witness agreed that in around 2009 Mr Rolandi did not have a place to live and Ms Whelan took him in. A relationship developed but Mr Rolandi could be violent. He was dependent on methadone and, unknown to Ms Whelan, he was also still a heroin user and was described by one former partner as an alcoholic. He did not work at any time during their relationship.

There had been violent episodes, in particular during family holidays to Turkey in 2013 and 2017, during which the two brothers witnessed assaults on their mother. After the incident in August 2017 the relationship "petered out" and Mr Rolandi and Ms Whelan began living separate lives under the one roof. The Whelans asked him to leave a number of times and on one occasion he did but returned saying he had nowhere else to go. Although he had bought himself a mobile home "he never packed his bags. He didn't leave."

On the night of the stabbing the witness agreed that Ms Whelan gave details of the row over the WiFi password and said that Alexander intervened and told Mr Rolandi he didn't want him in the house. He told him: "It's time to go get a job and go out on your own." Ms Whelan remembered Mr Rolandi "shaped up to him and said: "You're only a child. If I hit you I will hurt you."

Victor soon returned home and things "escalated" as the Whelans went to the kitchen to talk about removing Mr Rolandi from the house. Mr Rolandi came in and tried to grab Ms Whelan so Victor stood in front of his mother and pushed Mr Rolandi. There was "a lot of pushing and shoving and shouting" before Mr Rolandi got hold of Victor with one hand and raised the other fist "as if he was going to strike". Ms Whelan tried to put herself between the two men and then Alexander "decided to act". He took the knife from a cupboard in the kitchen and stabbed Mr Rolandi three times.

Det Sgt Lyng agreed there was no attempt to clean the weapon or engage in any kind of cover up. Alexander and his family cooperated fully with gardai. She also agreed that Alexander was "the last person in the world you would expect to find in this situation."

Mr Bowman handed a number of testimonials to Mr Justice Michael White including one from his school headmaster who said that in 34 years he "can't think of a student with a better temperament." He also pointed to psychological and probation reports which stated that the defendant is "not quick to anger" and does not act in violence or temper. 
A number of witnesses had described his mother as "the most important person in his life" and Mr Bowman said he felt "overwhelmed and sprang to his mother's defence".

Having no memory of his father, Mr Bowman said his client took on a heightened sense of responsibility for his mother and brother's safety and well-being. He found himself in "extraordinary circumstances", counsel said, when confronted with a man who showed "scant regard" for his mother's well-being and was "physically assaulting his mother and brother". 

Counsel added: "He overreacted. He sprang to the defence of the most important person in his life, his mother."
He made a "split-second decision", Mr Bowman said, that has had tragic consequences for him and for Mr Rolandi's family. He asked the judge to take into account Mr Whelan's young age at the time of the offence and his good character and to consider a custodial sentence as an option of last resort.

Mr Justice White said he would sentence Mr Whelan on March 2.

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