Sunday 22 October 2017

Mum’s pain that she never gave Mari (5) last kiss before fire

John Lynch (left) at Roscommon District Court yesterday where he pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Mari Keane Connolly (5)
Mari's parents Richard Connolly and Teresa Keane
Caroline Crawford

Caroline Crawford

THE mother of a five-year-old girl killed in an arson attack sobbed yesterday as she recalled that she never had a chance to say goodbye or give her a final kiss.

Teresa Keane said that she would never forgive her daughter Mari's killer -- a man who used to babysit her. She said her family's lives had been "destroyed" by Mari's killing.

"I never got to say goodbye or touch her face or give her one final kiss," Ms Keane sobbed as she recalled the night of Mari's death.

She said she would always regret not allowing little Mari to hold her newborn twin sisters, Ava and Layla, just hours before she was killed in the arson attack on her father's home at Termon Road, Boyle, Co Roscommon, on October 3 last.

John Lynch (33) pleaded guilty to manslaughter, arson and causing serious harm to John Connolly, Mari's uncle. He will be sentenced next week.

The court heard that Lynch, with an address at Church View in Boyle, set fire to the house after a cocaine and alcohol binge.

He had been in a jealous rage after an incident in August where he found his girlfriend Anita O'Hara in bed with John Connolly following a party at the house.

Incident

The pair had been fully clothed but the incident had led to a number of rows between Lynch and Ms O'Hara.

On the night of the arson, Lynch and Ms O'Hara had taken a cocktail of cocaine and alcohol. On bumping into John Connolly in a nightclub, an altercation broke out with Lynch hitting Mr Connolly with a bottle.

Defence barrister John Shortt said Lynch was "volatile and violent when he takes drink and drugs".

Later that night, Lynch beat his girlfriend with a metal curtain pole, breaking her jaw. He then set fire to the Connolly home, unaware that Richard Connolly, Mari's dad, and his three daughters were asleep inside. Lynch later rang Ms O'Hara telling her: "Now you c***. Precious John Boy's house is burning. The rats in Termon will have nowhere to live."

In a written apology to Ms Keane and Richard Connolly, read to Roscommon District Court yesterday, the accused

said the "shame, shock and devastation" of what he had caused had been "unbearable to face".

The court heard how Lynch had known the little girl, who would call to his house and who he and his girlfriend Ms O'Hara had babysat.

Describing Mari's parents as his friends, Lynch added: "I'm truly sorry Teresa, I swear to God I didn't know they were there."

The court also heard how Lynch broke down in custody saying he couldn't accept that he would go down as a child killer. However, 10 days later he admitted setting the fire which killed Mari.

The court heard how Richard Connolly had made desperate attempts to save his three daughters, but was left paralysed after he fractured his back trying to get the girls to safety. He cannot walk unaided now and came to the court yesterday on crutches.

While his two elder daughters Naomi and Lauren jumped after their dad, little Mari did not and perished in the fire.

Mari was so badly burned in the blaze that she had to be identified through a DNA sample taken from her mum.

Mari's older sisters Lauren and Naomi now live with their father Richard, who told the court they struggle to sleep at night. Her younger sister Caitlin cries often looking for Mari.

Lynch has 17 previous convictions including two assaults, one stabbing, burglary and possession of a firearm.

He had served a number of years in Castlerea Prison and was only released in November 2009.

A crowd of about 20 people, including relatives and neighbours of Mari, gathered outside the courthouse yesterday wearing T-shirts with a heart-shaped image of Mari and her favourite doll in memory of the little girl.

Judge Tony Hunt adjourned sentencing until next Tuesday, stating that the case was a very serious one and he was not unaffected by it.

Irish Independent

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