Thursday, 26 January 2017

Child Dispute Leads to Parent's Death

When a man was angry due to his daughter being injured by a neighbour while out playing, he responded by killing the father of the other child.

On Saturday 6th October 1855 in a court off Oriel Street a man named John O'Neill went to seek out neighbour Thomas Cahill. He then accused Cahill's son of injuring his daughter the previous day. After some words were exchanged, O'Neill stabbed Cahill in the chest and being taken into custody charged with assault.

Oriel Street in 2016
On the Monday morning O'Neill, described by the Liverpool Mercury as a 'reckless looking fellow' was remanded in custody for a week. The court had heard that the injured man's life was in jeopardy and that depositions had been taken. It was reported that both men were Irish and worked as labourers.

A surgeon from the North Dispensary attended to Cahill for five days but he remained in an insensible state and died on the 11th October. The inquest the next day returned a verdict of wilful murder. On hearing that the deceased had left a pregnant widow and five children, the jury held a collection and raised £3 and 15 shillings, equivalent to two to three weeks wages .

On 12th December O'Neill, stood trial before Justice Wightman. In opening the case, prosecutor Mr Simon told the jury that to find twenty-five year old O'Neill guilty of murder they would have to be satisfied that he had 'malice aforethought. 

Thomas's widow Hannah recalled how O'Neill had told her on the Friday night that he wanted blood for blood and stated he would be back when her husband was home. She went on to say that on the Saturday evening Thomas came home sober at 8pm, had supper and went to bed. Hearing O'Neill making a great noise in his own house and fearing for her safety and wary of his threats, Hannah then fastened her own door with a poker.

Hannah described how O'Neill came out and hammered at her door threatening to break it down and demanding that either of the Cahills come out, referring to Thomas and his brother who lodged with them. She then recalled how Thomas went down to reason with O'Neill, only to be punched twice. Thomas pleaded that they did not argue over the children, only to be struck again before being stabbed.  

Under cross examination, Hannah denied having laughed on the Friday night when shown the injuries on O'Neill's daughter. She also insisted that she did not say 'You may get what satisfaction you please.' Hannah's daughter Mary bravely gave evidence, saying that on the Friday O'Neill had chased her five year old brother with a knife and that she had also seen him with a knife on the night of the killing.

Thomas's deposition was then read out. It stated that he had not wanted a quarrel and opened the door to try and pacify O'Neill. He had not struck O'Neill and fell after being stabbed in the breast. The doctor who carried out the postmortem confirmed that wound had pierced the heart and the blow was so violent it had cut an artery and a rib. The police officer who apprehended O'Neill stated that he was drunk and resisted violently while being taken into custody.

The defence had no evidence to offer, but could only mitigate in the hope of having the jury return a verdict of manslaughter rather than murder. O'Neill's counsel Mr McDonald pointed to his drunkenness, the fact such violent threats were commonplace amongst people of his class, and that there had been mental aggravation.

In summing up Justice Wightman thanked Mr McDonald for his defence, but was not favourable towards the prisoner. He acknowledged that there had been some provocation on the Friday  but he could not see any from the Saturday, when O'Neill created a disturbance in his own house then knocked at the door of the Cahill's.

After the jury found O'Neill guilty of the lesser charge, the judge told him they had taken a favourable view of his case. Describing the killing as one of the worst cases that he could recollect, the judge said O'Neill was of ungovernable temper and must be transported for the term of his natural life. As he was led from the dock, there were shrieks of horror from the public gallery.

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