National: Man jailed for killing vulnerable pensioner by setting fire to his home

Man jailed for killing vulnerable pensioner by setting fire to his home

A 21-year-old man has been jailed for eight years for killing a vulnerable pensioner by setting fire to his home five years ago.

Aaron McDonagh (21), of no fixed abode, had pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of 61-year-old Gerry Marron on March 21, 2016. He was 16 at the time.

McDonagh, who has a learning disability, also pleaded guilty to committing arson on the same date by setting fire to Mr Marron’s house at St Macartan’s Villas, Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, intending to damage it or being reckless as to whether it would be damaged and intending to endanger another’s life or being reckless as to whether the life would be endangered. 

Mr Justice Michael White noted that Mr Marron had lived alone and was vulnerable because of a previous accident. He used a walking stick and needed ‘help and supervision from a very loving family’ of siblings and nieces and nephews.

However, he was being taken advantage of by youths, who used his house for unsupervised drinking. Just weeks earlier, a family member had tried to intervene in one such case, and was confronted by Aaron McDonagh.

Justice White quoted from the victim impact statement delivered last month by Mr Marron’s brother, Patrick Marron.

"In the months prior to Gerry's death, we as a family became more aware of Gerry's increased vulnerability. He was open to exploitation and we were concerned for his safety. I was so concerned about different events at his home, that I had to contact gardai a number of times," he said.

"I witnessed first-hand Gerry being harassed and intimidated in his own home, which I was gravely concerned about and as a result I reported what I had witnessed to An Garda Siochana on a number of occasions. Gerry's great neighbours also contacted both myself and Ann at different times, extremely concerned for his welfare. Sadly the frequency of these interferences at Gerry's home added greatly to our fears for Gerry's safety. Again we reported to gardai," he said.

Sadly, Mr Marron said, his "worst fears came to pass" in the early hours of March 21, 2016.

Justice White noted that on the evening before he was killed, at least two youths, including Aaron McDonagh were drinking in Mr Marron’s home. Emergency services were called to a fire there at 1.30am. Mr Marron was inside and couldn’t be rescued. He died of smoke inhalation.

Gardai soon became aware that the fire had been started maliciously, with the seat at the front door, near the fuse box.

McDonagh firstly denied his involvement but eventually, after evidence was put to him, he admitted what he had done.

The judge noted that Mr Marron’s siblings had given eloquent victim impact statements in court. He had also received victim impact statements from other siblings, a nephew, neighbours and friends.

“All deeply moving statements,” he remarked.

He also considered a lot of documentation handed in on behalf of the defence.

“The court has a duty to protect society,” he said.

“He was 16 at the time and was in law a child,” he noted, however. “He also has a mild to moderate learning disability.”

He took these into account when assessing McDonagh’s culpability.

He said that the aggravating circumstances included that the death was of a vulnerable person in horrific circumstances, and the devastating impact on his family. He described McDonagh’s history of exploiting the victim as a ‘very nasty aspect of his behaviour’.

He set a headline sentence of 12 years, but reduced it after taking his mitigating circumstances into consideration. These included McDonagh’s plea of guilty and background of severe depravation.

He said that McDonagh’s remorse has been very late coming and noted a report stating that he had little victim empathy.

He sentenced him to nine years in prison, with one year suspended, and said that it was essential that he be supervised in the community on his release.

McDonagh then entered a bond to engage with addiction, mental health, housing and education services and to attend therapeutic appointments on his release.

The sentences were imposed concurrently and backdated to 18th March 2019, when McDonagh went into custody.

Mr Marron’s nephew, solicitor Justin Murphy, spoke outside the court afterwards on behalf of the family.

“Today brings closure in the case of our dear brother and uncle, Gerry Marron, as a sentence has been handed down,” he said.

“It has been a long, painful five years since Gerry died so tragically in his own home, alone, with no goodbyes,” continued Mr Murphy.

“While we as a family are glad this is over today, it will never be over for us as a family,” he added. “We will have to live with the many sad memories of how Gerry died so horrifically.”

He and the Marron family then thanked everybody who helped to bring the case to this point, including ‘Gerry’s great neighbours’, the Gardai for their endless, painstaking time and work, the judiciary, the legal system, the local emergency services and ‘all who helped in any way’.

Mr Murphy concluded: “May Gerry now rest in peace.”

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