Former Donegal soldier who shot at wife with replica gun jailed for four years

November 5, 2023

A former Irish soldier who shot at his wife while she was in bed praying has been jailed for four years.

Peter Walters has downed six bottles of whiskey before bursting into the bedroom of the family home in Raphoe.

The 57-year-old, who suffers from untreated post traumatic stress disorder, admitted carrying out the terrifying incident when he appeared at Letterkenny Circuit Court.

Walters, a military enthusiast, took one of his replica guns from a cabinet of weapons he held at his home at Beechwood Avenue and opened fire with blank ammunition on May 17th, 2021.

Judge John Aylmer said an aggravating feature of the case was that the victim was the accused man’s wife and the offence constituted a “gross breach of trust.”

Walters was charged that he did, during the course of a dispute, produce in a manner likely to unlawfully intimidate another an article capable of inflicting serious injury, namely a decommissioned firearm capable of firing blank bullets.

The court was told Walters spent seven years in the Irish Defence Forces from 1981 until 1987 and had killed a man during combat and was discharged on mental health grounds.

He was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of this incident in the Lebanon in 1983 and had never been treated for the disorder.

He was also an alcoholic after experiencing what was described in court as a drink culture in the army back then.

However, he remained interested in all military items and kept a collection at his house including replica guns which were used in war re-enactments.

On the morning of May 17th, 2021, Walters had been on a booze bender and had down at least six bottles of whiskey in the previous 24 hours, the court was told.

His wife, Ms Theresa Walters, had returned home after visiting her sick daughter in Drogheda and was involved in an accident near Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone on the way home and had to be taken to Cavan hospital for medical attention.

When she arrived home, Ms Walters took a shower, dressed in her pyjamas and got into bed. When her husband got into bed, he was described as being ‘pissed drunk’. At 4am, he woke and filled a fresh glass of vodka.

The following morning, Ms Walters had her rosary beads out and was praying when Walters came into the bedroom. Ms Walters described ‘a big loud bang’ that was ‘deafening’ and the rosary beads flew out of her hands.

“She thought he was going to kill her,” Detective Garda John O’Sullivan said. Ms Walters told detectives: “I thought he wanted me dead’.

The terrified woman was unaware that her husband was firing blank bullets and he was shouting to her to get out of the house. He told her: “You’re not my wife. Get the fucking hell out of this house.”

Detective Garda O’Sullivan told the court: “She could see him pulling the trigger. There were flashes of light and loud bangs and she could see rubber things flying at her arms. Her ears were ringing and she could smell the smoke from the gun. She didn’t know what he was capable of.”

Ms Walters recalled how ‘his eyes were cold, like a cold-blooded killer and he was fixated on what he was doing’.

The court was told that Walters is an ex-soldier and has a keen interest in weapons. The couple had visited Normandy for a D Day Landing re-enactment and Walters purchased the firearm.

Gardai rushed to the scene at Beechwood Avenue around 10.20am. Detective Garda O’Sullivan and two other armed detectives responded initially.

Officers noted movement in an upstairs bedroom and Detective Garda O’Sullivan recalled seeing Walters dressed in a blue dressing gown. Walters gestured at gardai ‘putting his hands up as if to ask what’s going on’, he said. Walters came to the front door and had a black M1911 pistol in his hand.

The gun was cocked with the barrel pointed skywards. Detective Garda O’Sullivan shouted three times to Walters to drop the gun before Walters pulled the magazine from the pistol.

Detective Garda O’Sullivan had drawn his firearm and, rather than drop the gun, Walters removed the magazine and threw it back into the house.

“I was extremely concerned that he was trying to confuse me and made me think that his gun was empty,” Detective Garda O’Sullivan said.

Walters was given two further commands before Gardai stepped in and arrested him. Detective Garda O’Sullivan said Walters’ face was ‘bloated, red and he appeared intoxicated’.

In a subsequent search of the house, gardai found a stash of weapons, including a Thompson submachine gun and a semi-automatic pistol and ‘other military items’. Three rounds of blank cartridges were located on a desk in a room marked ‘Peter’s computer room’ while blood staining was noted by officers.

In a locked glass display, which was covered by a curtain, gardai found an Uzi machine pistol and other blank cartridges.

It was confirmed that all of the items found were legally held by Walters.

Counsel for the State, Ms Fiona Crawford, said Walters was ‘obsessed with military history’.

A ballistics test confirmed that the pistol Walters was holding when gardai arrived was ‘not capable of discharging bulleted ammunition’. Another 9mm calibre pistol located by officers was also ‘not capable of discharging bulleted ammunition’.

The court heard that Walters served in the Irish Army between 1981 and 1987. During a mission to Lebanon in 1983, Walters killed someone in order to protect other Irish soldiers.

“He is extremely traumatised by that and continues to have flashbacks,” Mr Nolan said.

When Walters was arrested and taken to Letterkenny Garda Station, he was too intoxicated to be interviewed. In the previous 24 hours, Walters drank six bottles of vodka and whiskey.

Until this incident, the court heard that Walters was off the drink for 12 years.

“He told Gardai that he blacked out and doesn’t remember anything,” Mr Nolan said.

Detective Garda O’Sullivan said he felt that it was Walters’ belief that gardai were ‘making a bigger deal’ out of the incident

Walters has seven previous convictions, four of which are for road traffic offences.

Detective Garda O’Sullivan said he would be ‘extremely sceptical’ whether or not Walters would get a firearms licence again.

In her concise victim impact statement, Ms Waters said how the entire neighbourhood has been upset by what had happened and one young family had even moved out of the area.

She said she still has nightmares about the incident recalling how her husband stood over her like a soldier pointing the gun at her face and pulling the trigger.

“The nightmares still haunt me to this day. I have been in fear of my life until today. I can now face you and tell you that I will do my best to rebuild my life,” she said.

She added that she has been in fear but that she can now face him in court and told him she will do her best to forgive him and that she hopes he can forgive himself.

Barrister for Walters, Mr Peter Nolan, said that up until this incident his client had been sober for 12 years.

“He told gardai that he blacked out and doesn’t remember anything,” he said.

Mr Nolan cited the time Walters spend in the army and said medical reports stressed that his client was suffering from untreated post traumatic stress disorder as a result of killing a man while on a UN peacekeeping mission.

He told how during a nighttime attack by local militia in the Lebanon, Walters saw a fighter ready to attack Irish soldiers with a machine gun and he shot and killed the man.

“He has been significantly traumatised by that,” Mr Nolan said.

He compared the PTSD suffered by Walters to that of those suffered by American soldiers after they had returned from Vietnam.

“From that appalling situation in the Lebanon, where he shot another human being… from that day on, it has been like a cancer eating away at him. He never received any treatment for his PTSD,” he said.

After Walters took to the witness stand and apologised to his wife, Mr Nolan said there was no question that their relationship was over.

Mr Nolan said his client was trying his best and had attended White Oaks Rehab Centre in a bid to combat his alcoholism and was also volunteering at the Donegal Donkey Sanctuary in Raphoe.

He hasn’t consumed any alcohol in two years and a report from the Probation Services but him at a moderate risk of reoffending but said he wasn’t suitable for community service.

Mr Nolan also stressed that while Walters admitted having the replica guns, all had been licensed and used merely in re-enactments and all had now been removed and will be destroyed.

Asking the court to be as lenient as possible the barrister added ““I would ask the court to consider him a man trying to deal with his demons.  I am convinced he will never come before the court again”

Referring to Section 40 of the Domestic Violence Act, Judge Aylmer said he placed the case in the mid-range of offences meriting a sentence of six years before mitigation but because the victim was the partner of the accused it then merited a sentence of seven years.

The mitigating factors are that Walters cooperated with the investigation, made admissions and entered an early guilty plea while the Judge also referred to his intoxication after six bottles of whiskey and the fact that he is suffering from untreated PTSD.

Walters had spent 28 days in rehab at Whiteoaks, had undergone talk therapy and had not consumed any alcohol for the past two years since the incident.

The court also noted his work history and the fact that he is now volunteering as a mechanic with the local Donegal Donkey Sanctuary.

For all of these factors, Judge Aylmer reduced the sentence of seven years to one of five years in prison.

And to give him credit for the “very significant strides” he has made in rehab and to encourage further rehabilitation, Judge Aylmer suspended the final 12 months of this sentence meaning Walters will serve four years in prison.

He gave Walters credit for time spent in custody and also ordered him to abstain from alcohol for 12 months after his release and engage with the local mental health and addiction services.

An order for the destruction of all guns and ammunition found at Walters home was all given.