Kevin Myers: At large: What Larry Murphy's freedom tells us about our laws
Published 30/11/2012 | 05:00
AS TV3 revealed the other night, the convicted rapist and suspected serial killer Larry Murphy is at large in Amsterdam, free to move wherever he wants, courtesy of the passport recently reissued to him by the Department of Foreign Affairs. But why is there no outcry over this?
He is a far greater danger to women than the HSE, our Constitution or Dail Eireann. But of course, he is not at the conjunction of the Catholic Church, sexual ethics, feminist politics and the health service, and so his continued freedom seems to arouse little or no public wrath. In fact, it is a far greater indictment of how our legal system works than the tragic events in Galway: because he went through that system, and, with three years of his 15-year sentence still to go, he is nonetheless lawfully free. This is perfectly monstrous.
Indeed, everything about the career of Larry Murphy is monstrous, from the disappearance of half a dozen women in the Wicklow-Carlow area, which went effectively uninvestigated for years, to his conviction for rape, and the sentence that followed. It doesn't take the imagination of a John Grisham to see how Murphy could have been charged so as to vastly maximise the sentences for his crimes against a young woman whom he abducted in Carlow one February night in 2000.
Firstly, he stalked her, with intent to endanger her life: a crime. Secondly, he violently attacked her, breaking her nose; assault and battery, causing actual bodily harm, another crime. He forced her into her own car, which he drove away. Car-theft, another crime.
He then assaulted her again, another crime. He stripped her naked, which is sexual assault. He bound her hands with her bra, which is another assault. He then crammed her into the boot of his own car, and drove her away, which is kidnap, and another crime. He took her out of the town, gagged and raped her, anally, orally and vaginally; three distinct crimes.
He forcibly put her back in the boot; another crime. He drove her into the Wicklow hills, another abduction, and raped her twice more. He then put a plastic bag over her head, which he tried to force down her throat: assault and battery and attempted murder. As she struggled, he tried to strangle her; in other words, a further attempted murder, at which point he was chanced upon and recognised by two deer hunters.
Each one of these crimes individually merited a serious term of imprisonment, to be served consecutively. Yet for his trial they were put together like a job-lot at an auction, and after pleading guilty, he was sentenced to just 15 years imprisonment. That term only expires in May 2016. Why is he free? Because, despite his refusal to express remorse, or attend any therapy courses for sex offenders in prison, he was given maximum remission for "good behaviour", whatever that means, and released over two years ago. All of which is too fatuous for words.
Meanwhile, the investigations into the seven missing women in his area remain open: let us remember these names as a terrible indictment of how our politico-legal system failed both them, the anonymous poor young survivor in Carlow, and perhaps other, still unknown women: Eva Brennan Annie McCarrick, Jo-Jo Dollard, Fiona Pender, Fiona Synnott, Ciara Breen and Deirdre Jacob. But they weren't the first murder victims of serial rapists: Mary Duffy and Elizabeth Plunkett had been raped and murdered by Geoffrey Evans and John Shaw in the same area 20 years before.
These two men, were the exception to the serial killer norm; they were inept buffoons – whereas serial killer-rapists are usually remarkably cunning. Just as the DPP is able to assign certain classes of crime for trial before the Special Criminal Court, it is surely not impossible to schedule certain classes of pathological crime as meriting lifelong imprisonment.
What would qualify a crime for this exceptional and discretionary treatment is that it possesses the characteristics of a serial rapist or serial killer, and therefore merits imprisonment comparable to the British concept, "at the Home Secretary's (or Her Majesty's) pleasure".
We certainly shouldn't have to wait for a suspected serial offender to be convicted on a lesser charge, be released and then to reoffend, before women are finally given the safety that our Constitution purports to confer. This doesn't mean every sexual offender is liable for such treatment. But when a sexual crime exhibits careful premeditation and extreme violence, it should merit lifelong incarceration.
As the great Niall McCarthy SC once attested, the greatest injustice done by Irish courts to Irish society is the acquittal of the guilty. But what if an 'ordinary' sexual offender is wrongly scheduled? Does not a modern version of Blackstone's oft-quoted maxim, "It is better that 10 guilty escape than one innocent suffer", then apply? A still-inviolate woman might softly ask: better for whom, pray?