Wife who killed husband with hammer walks free
Published 24/03/2010 | 05:00
THERE was no joy, nor even relief. The only expression that crossed the face of Anne Burke was one of sheer numb exhaustion as she received a non-custodial sentence for bludgeoning her abusive husband to death with a hammer.
Grateful tears streamed down the cheeks of her daughters Natasha and Linda, and her youngest son Peter smiled as they realised they would be taking their mother home instead of bidding her farewell.
The black nylon holdall at their feet showed the family had not been complacent -- they had packed all their mother might have needed in jail.
The 56-year-old mother of four cut a lonely and anxious figure in courtroom 13 at the Central Criminal Court in Dublin yesterday. She had been waiting a long time to learn her fate.
It was in August 2007 that the incident had taken place at their family home in Ballybrittas, Co Laois, when, after 32 years of the "litany of abuse" that had been her marriage finally came to an end when she took a hammer and beat her husband, Patrick Burke 23 times over the head.
She had been cleared of his murder by reasons of diminished responsibility by a jury at the Central Criminal Court in December.
The trial heard she had been subjected to a reign of terror by her husband, who had "clattered" her on a regular basis and had "murdered her" on her wedding night. Her daughter Linda (22) had told the court her earliest memory was standing at the top of the stairs in her pyjamas watching as her father held a shotgun to her mother's head and threatened to "blow her head off".
As Ms Burke sat in court yesterday ahead of sentencing, the toll this ordeal has taken on her and her family was apparent.
Ms Burke appeared drained and frozen in her anxiety, the corners of her mouth down-turned and her face puffy with crying. She was dressed in black, except for a blouse of royal blue. Beside her, her younger daughter Linda attempted to shield her mother from prying eyes and dabbed at her own eyes with a tissue.
As the court clerk made the announcement, "DPP and Anne Burke," the Laois woman rose fearfully to her feet and Judge Patrick McCarthy delivered his judgment.
He had consulted many authorities relating to offences of domestic violence before reaching his conclusion, he said.
Ms Burke listened bleakly, once lifting her head in a swift jerk as the judge said that one such case involved a woman who had killed her husband with 17 or 18 blows to the head. The woman had been frightened by a history of extreme violence, Judge McCarthy added.
Given the circumstances he had elected to suspend the sentence in this particular case, he told the court.
He said this so matter-of-factly that several in the court -- including Ms Burke's own barrister, Patrick Gageby -- practically missed it.
But showing they had been hanging on every word, Ms Burke's daughters began to weep, tears streaming down the face of the eldest, Natasha.
The judge said he was satisfied Ms Burke was suffering from a serious mental condition at the time, undoubtedly caused by her domestic circumstances. Judge McCarthy said he had been told there were fears Ms Burke could attempt suicide and that "this showed the depth of attrition and punishment in the mind of the accused herself".
Doctors had diagnosed her as suffering from a major depressive illness and she had thought that her children would be better off if she was dead.
He noted that the children were "at one" in wishing that their mother not suffer a custodial sentence.
It was an "extremely sad case" he noted, saying he proposed a five-year suspended sentence on condition that Ms Burke undergo treatment.
She would also have to comply with the terms of her psychiatrist and anyone involved in her medical and therapeutic assistance and she would have to enter a bond to this effect.
As the short hearing finished, Ms Burke hugged each of her daughters tightly as her youngest son beamed.
She glanced with trepidation at her solicitor as she was handed a letter in a brown envelope by her late husband's sister -- but she took it.
After signing the bond in which she agreed to her terms of sentence, she was free to go.
As the family walked away from court, hand in hand, they did not linger to talk to the media -- they had had enough of an ordeal and could take no more.