A 24 year old man who was involved in a large scale brawl at a pub and refused to heed his father's advice to go him ended up being sent to jail for life after being convicted of stabbing a bystander to death.
Shortly before midnight on Saturday 26th January 1861 there was a row in Mellor and Llewellyn Spirit Vaults at the corner of Dale Street and Johnson Street. A customer named Patrick Hefferan, who had been there for about two hours with his brother and friends, refused to make way for Thomas Donegan who was entering via the Dale Street doors. After a short scuffle involving a number of customers Donegan was removed into the street by the barman James Barlow, but he returned and struck another man down before leaving again.
Police arrived and told all customers, numbering no more than twenty in total, to leave. One of those was James Cassidy, who stopped and leaned against a wall in Johnson Street, a decision that was to prove fateful for him. Donegan said to Cassidy 'Are you one of them?' and without giving him a chance to answer punched him on the cheek despite his own father's pleas for him to stay away. Cassidy, who hadn't even been in the part of the pub where the row took place fell almost instantly.
Police who were at the scene weren't alarmed at first, as they assumed Cassidy had been drinking and fallen easily after the punch. What they didn't realise though was that Donegan, who had quickly run off, had a knife within his clenched fist and when Cassidy was seen to be bleeding heavily a doctor was called. He was taken to the North Dispensary in a cab but it was too late and he was dead on arrival, the jugular vein having been severed.
Donegan remained at large for a week, eventually being found in Cornwall Street in Everton hiding under a bed. Unbeknown to him, his uncle was battling serious injuries after being accidentally slashed by Donegan during the fracas in the vaults. When he arrived at the Bridewell, warders made him ham, bread and coffee but he had no appetite and instead asked for spiritual help.
On 1st April Donegan appeared before Mr Justice Hill at the Liverpool Assizes, where witnesses testified to having seen him strike Cassidy. Donegan's father was placed in the awful position of being called to the witness box but the prosecution didn't ask him any questions and he instead just had to confirm to the defence that after the stabbing, he didn't see him again until he has been arrested.
Mr Littler, the defence counsel, told the jury that Donegan had had no previous ill feeling towards Cassidy and he was wound up due to the earlier altercation. Given this lack of premeditation, he argued that a manslaughter verdict was most appropriate. When Justice Hill summed up, he left Donegan's fate very much in the balance. He stated that if he had struck the deceased with a weapon without provocation then it was murder, but if it had been in the heat of the moment, having been involved in a quarrel if could be reduced to manslaughter. A big problem here was that despite the earlier fracas, Cassidy was clearly not part of he group that had been fighting in the spirit vaults.
The jury returned a verdict of 'manslaughter of a very aggravated character'. In sentencing, Justice Hill said that a murder verdict would have been reasonable and that Cassidy had been a 'peaceable man, who gave no offence'. Telling Donegan that he was sentencing him to something as 'near as capital punishment could be' and from a duty he could not shrink, Justice Hill imposed a sentence of penal servitude for life.