Thursday 26 April 2018

Danny Keena found guilty of murdering the mother of his two children

Brigid Maguire
Brigid Maguire

Andrew Phelan

A FATHER-of-two has been found guilty of murdering the mother of his children, who he strangled to death after a row at her home.

Danny Keena (55) killed his estranged partner Brigid Maguire (43) and fled the house, going on the run for 24 hours before handing himself in.

Keena, dressed in a charcoal-coloured suit with an open necked shirt started straight ahead and showed no emotion as the jury’s verdict was read out at the Central Criminal Court today.

The Co Westmeath farmer faces life in prison after a jury delivered its guilty verdict and Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy adjourned sentencing until Friday.

Brigid, a hospital care assistant, was found dead on her bedroom floor by her distraught daughter Jade.

Keena had admitted choking Brigid to death, but denied it was murder, claiming provocation after she told him he was a bad father. His defence maintained he had “lost his mind” and all control when he throttled Brigid against a wardrobe.

However, his trial had heard there was a background of serious domestic violence and abuse and Keena himself admitted to gardai he had previously choked Brigid in an argument over a washing machine.

Keena, from Empor, Ballynacargy, Co Westmeath had denied murdering Brigid at her home at Main Street, Ballynacargy on November 14, 2015. She had moved to that rented house with her children weeks earlier.

The jury returned an 11 to 1 majority verdict at 3.13pm, after four hours and 55 minutes of deliberations.

Earlier, Judge MCarthy had directed that they could reach a verdict by a majority of no fewer than 10.

When the seven men and five women returned, the court registrar asked the foreman if at least 10 of them had agreed on a verdict.

“Yes,” he replied.

The issue paper was then handed over to the registrar who said that it stated the accused was guilty on the single count of murder.

Judge McCarthy then told the jury they were exempt from further service for 10 years. Prosecutor Remy Farrell SC requested an adjournment as victim impact statements were not ready yet.

Judge McCarthy said where the sentence was mandatory he preferred sentencing to proceed soon and remanded Keena in custody to this Friday.

Read More: Man accused of killing his partner had 'significant background of domestic violence and abuse'

The verdict was greeted by silence in the courtroom and Keena started ahead, raising his eyes only to watch the jury as they filed out. He conferred briefly with his lawyers before being led out by a prison officer.

Jade Maguire raised a hand to her forehead when the verdict was read out. After the judge had risen, members of her family whispered “yes!” to each other.

In a corridor outside, they wept and hugged.

During the trial, the court heard that, after a shopping trip in Mullingar, Jade Maguire had gone to a cousin's house, while her mother went home.

Jade Maguire gave evidence that when she returned, the front door was open and she walked in.

“I was shouting Mammy, but I didn’t get no response,” she said. “I kept shouting and I was a bit up the stairs when I seen her lying on the floor. I went over to her and I tried to call her and that but she was gone. She was dead.”

She, her mother and her brother had left the family home because Keena was “always very violent towards my mother, very abusive, literally the whole time.”

She said once he took a hammer out and started waving it into her mother’s face, shouting and screaming, “saying he was going to kill her.”

Keena left the room and came back with a poker, which he “waved, trying to get at Mammy,” Jade Maguire said.

“Later we tried to leave and he stopped us with a baseball bat,” she added.

Keena went missing after the discovery of the body and his older brother Tom said he spent most of the night searching for him.

The next day, Keena went to a neighbour, Mary Burke’s house to hand himself in.

“He was a terrible looking wreck, there was a towel on him or something, there was all dirt and filth, he was rough looking,” Tom Keena said of seeing his brother.

Garda Seamus O’Neill arrived.

“He said ‘she told me that I was a bad father to Daniel’, he told me he tried to revive her, he stated that he should have called an ambulance and that he panicked and that he killed her,” Gda O’Neill said. Keena agreed to go to Mullingar Garda Station, where he was interviewed over the next two days.

In interview, Keena told gardai he had argued with Brigid after he went to her house to talk about their son having missed school.

“She said ‘you are no good to them children, that is what has us here in this house’,” he told gardai. “I said you are some mother to them, wh*ring in and around Mullingar.”

The court heard he had suspected her of cheating on him and he told gardai he found messages on her phone to another man that included “sex talk.”

He said Brigid was sitting with her back to the headboard and her phone in her hand and a text came on the phone.

“I said, ‘that must be your f**king partner in Mullingar, you must be going to meet him’”, his statement continued.

“She jumped up off the bed and came at me real violently,” he said.

She had her two hands out into his face and he put his hands out to block her, he said, and his two hands were on her shoulders to push her back.

“That is when I flipped,” he said. “I moved them onto her neck.”

He "had her up against the wardrobe, choking her for 60 seconds" before she fell down, he said.

“Her tongue was all blue, she was fighting for her life at this stage.”

He said he stopped choking her when she fell and he “knew the damage was done.”

“I didn’t mean to kill her at all,” he told gardai.

Keena said he slapped her a good few times with an open hand as he thought she was “coming back.”

He said he tried to revive her but “she just went, faded then.”

“I got down on my knees and started crying. I said don’t die, Brigie, don’t die. I knew she was going.”

He said he felt her forehead and it was going cold.

Keena said he “knew he was after killing her” and did ran without calling an ambulance because he “panicked.”

He “drove home like a mad man,” he said.

Read More: 'I hated him for what he was doing to her' - Teen whose father strangled his mother to death breaks down in court

He told gardai he went to hang himself in a shed, then drown himself in the River Inny but did not go through with either suicide attempt because he saw his son’s face.

Keena had said he “lived for” his 14-year-old son and had only gone to the house to talk about him having missed school.

He denied he had meant to kill Brigid, saying it was a “pure accident,” saying: “I didn’t know what I was at, I lost control of myself, I didn’t know what I was at at that moment.”

A post mortem showed Brigid had died by hypoxia caused by “excessive pressure applied externally to the neck”. The force used caused bleeding to her neck muscles and a fracture to the hyoid bone.

Keena told gardai he was aware of his own strength and that he had a “temper.”

Keena’s son gave evidence at the trial via video link, describing his father as a “bully” and telling the jury his father would “always taken everything out on Mammy.” On one occasion, he said, Keena poured milk over Brigid’s head for “no reason.”

“It was really bad because he would never leave my mother alone and he’d always pick on her,” he said. “He would threaten her and say everything is your fault and all this. He would say I'd kill you and the whole lot.”

In his closing speech Colm Smyth SC, defending, said Keena had been sent “utterly out of control” by the remark that he was a bad father which was “one of the most hurtful things you could say to a man.”

“This case is a great tragedy by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.

However, the prosecution did not accept Keena had been provoked and in his summing up, Remy Farrell SC told the jury it was “one of the clearest cases of murder you might hope for.”

“The reason Danny Keena did what he did is because he was angry, he was jealous, he was bitter, he was thin skinned,” and he “strangled the life out of” Brigid, Mr Farrell said.

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