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Saturday 20 September 2014

Man (37) jailed for life for murder of Olivia Dunlea

Published 29/05/2014 | 17:12

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Olivia Dunlea O'Brien from Passage West, Co Cork
Olivia Dunlea O'Brien from Passage West, Co Cork

A 37-year-old man has been jailed for life for murdering a woman he'd been “an item” with for three months.

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Darren Murphy of Dan Desmond Villas, Passage West, Co Cork had pleaded not guilty to murdering Olivia Dunlea (36) at Pembroke Crescent, Passage West, Co Cork on February 17 2013 but had attempted to plead guilty to manslaughter.

Mr Murphy, who admitted setting fire to Ms Dunlea's home because, he claimed, he “didn't want the kids to find her,” had pleaded guilty to a second charge of arson.

A jury in the Central Criminal Court took 4 hour-and-a-half hours to find him guilty of murder today by a majority of ten-to-one. (One juror had been excused from service earlier in the trial).

There were sobs from Ms Dunlea's family as the verdict was read out while Mr Murphy, who held his right hand to his face throughout the trial, made no reaction.

The seven-day trial heard that for about three months, mother-of three Olivia Dunlea and Mr Murphy had been “an item” together. On the Saturday night before her death, the pair were having a good time in the nearby Rochestown Inn but when they arrived home they had “a massive row”.

According to Mr Murphy's statements to gardaí, Olivia threw keys at the accused and told him to get out of her house. As she was undressing she allegedly told him a former lover, known as Fás, was calling.

Mr Murphy told gardaí that he 'just snapped' and, having stabbed her six times in the neck, he set fire to the house.

State Pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy was of the view that Ms Dunlea was alive when the fire started as she had been inhaling toxic fumes and her body position suggested she made no attempt to escape the fire, the court heard.

In his closing speech to the jury, prosecuting counsel Thomas Creed SC, said Mr Murphy could have called emergency services to try and save her.

But that's not what Mr Murphy did, counsel said. “He set fire to the house and left her in a situation where she could have been saved.”

Counsel said Mr Murphy “watched from Church Hill above like Nero as the house burned with Olivia in it.”

Having received the inevitable phone call, Mr Murphy came back “all full of crocodile tears knowing full well what had happened,” Mr Creed said.

“If you think it's credible that he lit the house on fire to spare the kids from seeing her, I suggest a far more credible explanation was that he was attempting to cover up what he had done,” Mr Creed said.

It was “one big concocted lie to try and confound the people around him,” counsel said, and was “all about protecting Darren Murphy”.

Not only was he killing the children's mother but he was killing their pets, counsel said. “All their little budgies and lizards upstairs in the room died.” Their dog would have died also if it wasn't for the bravery of a neighbour, counsel said.

Mr Creed finished his speech by describing the incident as a “a sustained, calculated and callous attack over a period of a number of minutes whereby he firstly tried to smother Olivia Dunlea and when he didn't succeed he stabbed her.”

In a victim impact statement read to the court, Ann Dunlea, Olivia's mother, said justice was the family's ultimate purpose.

“On February 17 2013, my family's life changed beyond repair,” Olivia's mother told the court.

“No parent should have to bury their child in these circumstances, it is not natural in the circle of life. Since the killing of our daughter we have been living our own life sentence of anger and grief sickened by how depraved and disgusting a human being can be.”

“Olivia was 36 years old, loved life and everything it had to offer. The sparkle in her eyes and radiant smile displayed this vibrancy, which was also reflected in her work as a play-school teacher. Olivia had so much kindness and love to share but this was stolen from her.”

Olivia's three teenage children were her treasures who never left their mother's side, Ms Dunlea said. “Words cannot express the pain I hold in my heart watching my grandchildren struggle without the presence of their mother's love and touch.”

“How do you console a child who wants mum to be at their birthday party and confirmation?”

“How do you tell a child they have no home and all their possessions have been destroyed by a deliberate act of evil?”

Speaking outside the Criminal Courts of Justice, Ms Dunlea expressed her family's delight with the result but said “it still won't bring her back”. She wished to thank the gardaí in Togher, Douglas and their liaison officer Michelle Barron, without whom they would have been “lost”.

Mr Justice Paul Carney imposed the mandatory life sentence on the accused backdating it to February 19 2013, the date on which he had been taken into custody. The judge further remanded Mr Murphy in custody until June 18 in respect of the arson charge.

Mr Justice Carney thanked the remaining 7 men and 4 women of the jury and exempted them from service for the rest of their lives.

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