Arsonist killer shows no emotion at guilty verdict
A killer showed no emotion yesterday after a jury convicted him of the manslaughter of a woman in an arson attack which engulfed her home.
Anne-Marie O'Neill (50) perished in a fire three years ago after Jason Murphy deliberately set her and her husband's car alight and the fire spread to their house.
Murphy (36) of 31 Elm Park, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, denied the manslaughter at Mrs O'Neill's home at 202 Elm Park on April 27, 2007. He also denied two counts of arson.
Husband Pat O'Neill broke his ankle jumping from an upstairs window to escape the fire but his wife was too scared to jump.
She died in the blaze and Mr O'Neill said yesterday he has not returned to the Clonmel, Co Tipperary house since.
He described his late wife as a "brilliant lady" whose life was brutally cut short on that April morning.
"Justice has been done, justice has been done," Mr O'Neill said repeatedly as he accepted hugs and handshakes from relatives, friends and neighbours.
Mrs O'Neill had gone back to education to gain a qualification at the age of 50 but had never got the chance to accept her award.
"That's the lady that was burned in the fire," Mr O'Neill said outside court as he produced a photograph of his wife from his wallet. "I'll carry that with me for the rest of my life."
A jury found Murphy guilty of manslaughter by an 11-1 majority verdict and guilty of both arson charges on unanimous verdicts, after deliberating for about four-and-a-half hours.
Murphy was remanded in custody after the verdicts were read out at Clonmel Circuit Court.
Mrs O'Neill died after Murphy set fire to the car outside their home at about 5.30am on April 27, 2007.
The fire spread through the front door into the house and quickly engulfed the ground floor of the two-storey end-of-terrace property.
A number of Elm Park residents said that it was a regular occurrence at that time for people to gather around bonfires and drink at a sportsfield located beside the O'Neills' home.
Murphy was at such a gathering on the night of Thursday, April 26, and later went back to a friend's house before going on to another friend's house in the early hours of the 27th.
Two witnesses, Janette Cody and her partner Jonathan Dennehy, told gardai in the days following the tragedy that they heard Murphy saying he started the fire in the car, but that he never intended anyone to get hurt or killed. Both said they saw him crying and that he was talking about going to England.
However, in the witness box during the trial, the witnesses said they had told lies in their statements to gardai because they were threatened with jail and that their two children would be taken from them and put into care. Another witness, John-Paul Cody, said in a garda statement that he saw the accused and another man with blackened faces on the morning of the fire. He too retracted his allegation, saying he told gardai "what they wanted to hear".
Judge Thomas Teehan adjourned the case until June and ordered a victim impact report and a probation and welfare report. He remanded Murphy in custody.