A Dublin internet café manager has been jailed for six years for kicking a customer to death during a row over a 70-cent phone call. The victim’s family has criticised the sentence.
Zhen Dong Zhao (40) had pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to the manslaughter of Noel Fegan, a father of two. He kicked him to death outside the e-Times internet café and call shop on Lower Wellington Quay in Dublin city centre on May 20, 2011.
Zhao of Jervis Street, Dublin, was originally convicted of the 39-year old’s murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2012.
That conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal earlier this year and a retrial ordered. However, the Chinese man’s plea was accepted by the State at the Central Criminal Court last month.
The court heard that Mr Fegan, a recovering heroin addict, had gone into Zhao’s shop that afternoon after receiving a ‘call me’ text message from his 12-year-old daughter.
A row broke out between the two men over the payment of 70 cent for that call. There was a conflict between eyewitnesses about who threw the first slap.
The row erupted onto the street and part of it was caught on CCTV. The physical altercation lasted less than 10 seconds, but Zhao kicked him to the head on a number of occasions during that time.
The court heard that Mr Fegan had been on the ground and ‘crawling away on all fours’ when the final blow was delivered after a pause. One witness said the accused gave his dying victim a ‘two-finger salute’ as he walked away.
Witnesses said that there had been ‘no fury or anger’ in Zhao during the attack and that his demeanour was ‘casual’.
An autopsy found that Mr Fegan died of a subarachnoid haemorrhage caused by blunt-force trauma resulting from kicks to his head and neck.
Zhao was arrested minutes after the attack.
He admitted to gardai that he had been ‘angry’ after Mr Fegan had argued over payment. He said he ran after him because he ‘wanted to teach them not to do this again’, adding ‘I don’t like these types of people’.
“He lost his life over 70 cent,” he added, however. “I feel sorry for him and his family.”
He told gardai that he didn’t recognise himself in the footage: "I regret what I did. He lost his life and I destroyed mine.”
Zhao also said he could not face the deceased's family and he wanted gardai to convey to them his sorrow for what he had done.
Victim impact statements from members of Mr Fegan’s family were read out in court earlier this month.
Mr Fegan’s daughter, who is now 17, said her father’s death had left her heartbroken.
She said her father would phone her every day, but since his death she has been referred to a counsellor at school.
“To this day, I cannot concentrate (in class) and think about my Dad and what his last thoughts were,” she said.
“He will miss out on walking me down the aisle and crying because he is giving his little girl away, and that breaks my heart,” she added.
His son, Adam, who was 17 at the time of the attack, said that his father had missed out on several important events in his life, including sitting his Leaving Cert, taking him for his first drink, and the day he started college.
Mr Fegan’s sister, Catherine, described her brother as the ‘joker of the family’ who was a ‘fantastic dad'.
“The hardest thing for me is that I will never receive another phone call from him, saying: ‘I love you’,” she said.
Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy said today that sentencing was not an exercise in vengeance and that the appropriate sentence was about nine years.
However, he took a number of mitigating factors into account. These included Zhao’s expression of remorse, his early plea, the fact that there was ‘no practical, serious risk’ of him reoffending and the fact that he was from the Far East and prison here would be more difficult for him.
He said the appropriate reduction for mitigation was three years. He imposed a six-year sentence, with an order that he receive credit for the two years and eight months he had already spent in custody.
His victim’s niece, Claudia Doyle, spoke outside following sentencing. She said the family was really disappointed and upset with the sentence her uncle’s killer had received.
“I know we’ll never get justice. Nothing’s going to bring Noel back,” she said. “It would have been easier to see him go away for a longer period of time, but I suppose we just have to deal with what happened today.”
She said her uncle had been ‘a really genuine, happy-go-lucky guy’, who wanted to turn his life around and for whom things were getting better.
“This just tore us apart really,” she said. “It was really tough on the whole family, especially as he was just turning his life around and then this happens,” she said.
She said it had been extremely difficult for his two young children.
“Nothing we do now is going to bring him back,” she concluded.