Two brothers and their cousin have been jailed for over 20 years between them for their involvement in a “vicious, savage and murderous attack” which left a man brain-damaged.
Antrim Crown Court Judge David Smyth QC said the cruel irony in the case was that the victim had been a “peacemaker trying to avoid trouble” when he was attacked after a band parade in the early hours of May 24, 2009.
He had been chased into Bridge Street, Ballymena, where he was knocked unconscious by a punch from Gareth Balmer (21), from Princes Street, Ballymena,|who then kicked him as he lay defenceless. He was given 12 years for attempted murder.
His 18-year-old cousin Jamie Lee Mark, from Crosshill View, Kells, who was also convicted of the murder bid, was told he will serve four-and-a-half years.
Balmer's 20-year-old brother Colin, also from Princes Street in Ballymena, was convicted of causing grievous bodily harm with intent, and will serve four years.
Jailing the trio, Judge Smyth said the motive for the attack was unclear, and CCTV footage was “particularly unsettling” with their “triumphalist gloating”.
”To describe this as cowardly is an under statement ... to revel and gloat at an attack which left a man immoble and possibly for dead is intolerable,” he added.
Relatives of their victim, in court for the sentencing, left the building saying did not want to say anything at this stage.
In his sentencing Judge Smyth acknowledged the “spontanity involved and lack of any preplaning”, but said that this had to be seen in the context of the “murderous intent” of the attack.
The judge said that after a band parade the victim and some friends had been drinking and had been going to get money from a bank machine.
During the trial in October last year, the court heard that while some words were exchanged by a friend of the victim and the accused, he had tried to “shepherd” his friend away in an effort to prevent any trouble erupting.
Judge Smyth said for whatever the provocative reason, Gareth Balmer set off in pursuit of the victim. On catching up, he punched him once, causing him to spin round and hit his head on the pavement leaving him “from that moment on ... comatose and in this position he was kicked in the head and stomped upon”.
The judge said he was “satisfied this was a vicious attack”. Balmer's brother Colin then went to the “inert” man and kicked him. Although this was caught on CCTV, it was “not absolutely clear if he made critical contact” with the victim.
On this occasion Judge Smyth said that “a savage attack was inflicted” on the unconsious and defenceless man, who was “inert and had done nothing to provoke that and had infact done the opposite”.
Later Judge Smyth said that when the victim had been left unconscious as a result of his uncontrolled fall, he was “murderously attacked”.
Earlier, prosecuting QC Richard Weir said the impact for the victim and his family “has been devasting, if that is not too strong a word”.
Mr Weir said the victim had been a “modest and model citizen ... a son, a brother, an uncle” whose existence had been left in pieces, and that the consequences for him and his family will be life long.
Lawyers for the men claimed that the attack was neither preplanned nor premeditated and that the spontanous dreadful events may have been sparked by the most banal of comments, which were ignited by alcohol.
Defence lawyer Charles MacCreanor for a remorseful Gareth Balmer said he accepted punching and kicking the man, and can only “describe what happened as a moment of madness”.
Laurence McCrudden QC for Mark, described him as “a follower rather than a leader”, who had joined in the chase only to “find himself in the middle of this tornado and was clearly out of his depth in the company he was keeping”.
Taylor Campbell for Colin Balmer said it was accepted that no-one was “looking for trouble” that night and although “something sparked it off ... a shouting match ... maybe we will never get to the bottom of what happened”.