A COWARD punch killer has pleaded guilty to manslaughter over the death of teen footballer Patrick Cronin.
In an about-face that has left the Cronin family shocked, Andrew Lee, 34, today admitted the one-punch attack on Patrick, after spending more than a year denying any wrongdoing over the fatal incident.
The plea came on the third day of his Supreme Court trial, with Patrick’s family understood to be relieved it means they will not have to endure a full two-week trial.
Patrick, 19, became caught in a wild pub brawl at the Windy Mile on April 16 last year.
He didn’t throw a punch. Instead he tried rescue friends from the brawl.
He wasn’t looking when Lee punched him in the side of the head causing his fatal injury.
After being attacked Patrick continued to help mates caught in the fight.
He was later taken to hospital and two days later his family made the agonising decision to turn off his life support system.
The Cronin family shook their heads as the man who just admitted to killing Patrick had his bail extended until a pre-sentence hearing in October.
But in granting bail Justice Lex Lasry said Lee has been on bail without incident for more than a year.
Lee’s lawyer, Peter Morrissey, SC, said he understood he would be jailed at his next court appearance.
Lee and Patrick were not known to each other, but were at the pub with separate groups of friends when a verbal altercation broke out between some other men.
Mr Cronin had been at the pub with friends having earlier played football with his brother Lucas.
The group had been drinking at a friend’s house nearby before walking to the pub.
Mr Lee had been at a Rodney Rude show at a Doncaster hotel before he headed to the Windy Mile with friends.
He had been there less than an hour before becoming involved in the pub brawl.
“At the time the accused man threw the punch, there was simply no necessity to intervene, there was no necessity for him to do that. He had not come to anyone’s defence,” prosecutor Brendan Kissane said opening the trial this week.
“What the law says is that if you punch somebody to their head and you cause an injury, then that is deemed to be a dangerous act.
“What resulted from that was that there was a fracture that was caused to Patrick Cronin’s head … that fracture caused a bleed … there was a bleed into the brain, pressure build up … and that is what caused Patrick’s death.”
Lee had tried to argue that Patrick’s injuries may have been caused by something else, or that there was no evidence to suggest it was his punch.
Yesterday the jury empaneled for the planned trial and lawyers involved in the case visited the Windy Mile pub.
It is understood Lee made his decision to plead guilty following that visit.
Days after Lee was charged with murder, his brother Brendan was arrested and charged with harassing a witness.
Brendan Lee pleaded guilty, was convicted, and fined $3000 over the incident that saw him lure a witness to a park where he was waiting with three other men.
He told him to withdraw his statement because his brother Andrew, who has a wife and young child, was facing the possibility of a decade behind bars.
The court heard Lee gave the witness the business card of a prominent lawyer he said could help him withdraw his statement.
In the wake of Patrick’s killing his family established the Pat Cronin Foundation.
The foundation was created to end coward punch attacks through awareness, education and research.
“We are determined that Pat’s life be honoured and that no other family should face the devastation we now face as a result of his senseless death,” a family statement on its website says.
“Pat was enormously popular and had a deep love for his family and friends. His death has left a gaping hole in our lives and caused devastation among not only us but also his friends and the broader communities in which we have been involved.
“Pat was a normal kid. We are just a normal family. We live in a normal suburb. If this can happen to us, it can happen to anyone.”