Sylvia's family scarred by fateful night
They'll never come to terms with this needless death, says Nicola Anderson
WHEN Sylvia Roche-Kelly was being chatted up in a Limerick nightclub, she never dreamt the young man at her side was out on bail awaiting trial on an assault charge.
The mother of two had been going through a rough time when she decided to treat herself to a rare night out on the town to celebrate her birthday.
Sylvia (33) had fulfilled her dream when she opened her own art gallery, Miller Gallery in the village of Sixmilebridge, Co Clare, following her marriage to Lorcan Roche-Kelly.
But the gallery closed after running into financial difficulties and Sylvia opened a picture-framing business from her home. In the meantime, she was also raising her two children, Shane (14) who has autism, and daughter Aisling (5).
Before long, her marriage ran into difficulties and Sylvia separated from her husband in the months before she died.
During that much-needed birthday night out in Limerick city with her sister and friends on December 7, 2007, the group ended up in Ted's – a nightclub.
Sylvia struck up conversation with a young man at the bar. Jerry McGrath was 23 years old, unemployed and was from Tipperary.
He had intended returning there that night – but after checking the train timetable, decided to stay drinking with his friends in the Clarion Hotel before heading to Ted's where he met up with Sylvia.
It is highly unlikely that he told her of his track record. He was awaiting trial on an assault charge in Cavan for the assault of a female taxi driver, Mary Lynch, on April 30, 2007.
On that date, Ms Lynch was approached by McGrath at the taxi rank outside the Headford Arms hotel in Kells, Co Meath.
McGrath asked her to take him to Virginia, Co Cavan, but when they reached there he directed her to drive to Mullagh. During the trip, he told her his life story.
At his request, she stopped the car. Recalling the assault, she said: "He got out of the car and he came round to my window, which I opened so he could pay me. But instead, he opened the door of the car and he just went berserk."
"He went mental," Ms Lynch told Pat Kenny on Newstalk.
"He started kicking me. He pulled lumps of hair out of my head. He bit me. I was black and blue, I had black eyes. My neck was all bruised, all down my sides was all bruised black and blue... I was screaming.
"By the time he came around to the door, his fly was open and he was trying to get my head to his body, he wanted to beat me up," she added. Ms Lynch said she eventually calmed her attacker and drove herself to safety. McGrath was arrested in Virginia.
He was subsequently charged with aggravated assault and failing to pay the taxi fare and was granted bail.
After the attack, she heard that McGrath, from Dundrum, Co Tipperary, had attempted to take a little girl out of a house while her parents were asleep in another room.
McGrath was later charged with that incident and was initially remanded in custody – but was later granted bail.
Ms Lynch was concerned that he had been released on bail and was angry later that she was not allowed to give her victim impact statement in court.
"I told the guards that I wanted to be in the court. I knew the case was coming up on Monday, January 7, which was after the murder.
"I had got myself all prepared to go into the court. On the Saturday before the court, I got a call from a garda, who said my case was not going ahead and there was no need for me to be in the court."
Her gut instinct that McGrath was dangerous was proven to be right, but she felt guilty over Ms Roche-Kelly's murder, she added.
"When I heard about the murder, I realised I was right and that could have been my fate."
Gardai are now trying to establish if investigating gardai objected to bail being granted at that stage, if the application was made in the District Court or if his lawyers went to the High Court.
They are also trying to find out if the investigating gardai in Co Tipperary had been aware of the earlier incident in Co Cavan.
It was after McGrath had been released, that he struck again at the Clarion Hotel in Limerick.
Inviting Ms Roche-Kelly back to his hotel, she agreed – and they left the club together hand in hand, as they strolled along the quays. It was a short and heartbreaking journey, observed by CCTV cameras lining the route.
They went straight to his room and had sex. Gardai have only his word for what happened next.
McGrath claimed Sylvia "enraged" him with a reply to something he had said, and he beat her viciously, kicking her between the legs and punching her face before strangling her.
Several hours passed before he quietly left the hotel, not checking out, and travelled immediately to England.
However, McGrath had checked into the hotel in his own name and gardai quickly tracked his home place down. It was McGrath's father who eventually discovered that his son was staying with relations in England and persuaded him to come home.
In a victim impact statement, Sylvia's husband told heartbreakingly of the effect her death had on her children, particularly on Shane, who suffers from an autistic spectrum disorder, which means he cannot cope easily with change.
The one constant in Shane's life had been Sylvia – and without her, the world has become a much harder place, he said.
"Without her unconditional love and patience he has been robbed of the comfort he could find only with her," he added.