Phoenix Park murder: Victim was a 'good and honest' man who chose to live rough in park
A 29-year-old homeless man has been sentenced to life in prison for murdering a father of one, whose body he then set on fire in a Dublin park.
Ciaran Moran, who is currently in jail for another killing, beat his victim over the head with a lump hammer. He also photographed him and amputated his toe after murdering the 36-year-old Tallaght native, whom he knew was a man of considerable means.
The Central Criminal Court heard that Gerard Donnelly owned two houses and had almost €150,000 in cash and savings at the time of his death. However, the only child suffered from an untreated illness and chose to live rough in the Phoenix Park, which was how Moran came to know him.
Ciaran Moran, who lived at Camden Hall homeless hostel, Camden Street in Dublin had pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr Donnelly at an unknown time during November 28th or 29th, 2013.
However, he changed his plea to guilty on day nine of his trial last week, after the judge ruled that the jury should hear his descriptive confession to the murder.
The trial had heard that gardai found Mr Donnelly’s body on fire in a sleeping bag in a wooded area of the Phoenix Park shortly before 1am on November 29th. He was lying at the base of a tree with a blow torch near his groin.
A post-mortem exam concluded that he died of instrumental blunt force trauma to the head. The pathologist said he had received multiple blows from a heavy object and that a fire-damaged lump hammer found beside the body could have been the weapon used.
Professor Marie Cassidy also said that a pincer tool found at the scene could have been used to amputate his left little toe and cause a v-shaped incise wound to his thumb.
His skull and face were extensively fractured, his brain was injured and the upper half of his body was severely fire-damaged. Such were his injuries that Mr Donnelly was identified through a DNA match with his mother.
The court heard that Moran had told an acquaintance that he was going to batter and torture Mr Donnelly to get his money. Other witnesses testified that the accused didn’t stay in his hostel on the night of the murder, but checked into a B&B between 2am and 4am.
Jurors were shown CCTV footage of Moran walking towards the scene shortly before the killing and of him lodging and spending money the following day. He bought new clothes, expensive head phones, a smart phone and a €600 bicycle.
He sent a photograph of a severed toe from his new phone to an unknown recipient the night after the murder.
He then told an acquaintance that he had killed Mr Donnelly because he (the deceased) had been accused of interfering with children. He showed her a photograph of his victim’s bloodied face and severed toe. Matching images were found on his devices.
The nine men and three women of the jury were asked not to come to court three days last week, during which time the defence applied to have certain evidence excluded.
This included Moran’s confession to the murder made in a video-recorded interview while in garda custody. The video showed him telling gardai that he ‘was going to be paid for killing Gerry’ with hand guns, hand grenades and other weapons.
He said he had hit him over the head with the lump hammer ‘a couple of times’ before taking a picture of him ‘as proof of death’ and cutting off ‘the baby toe… with a snips’. He said he had tried to cut off a finger, but couldn’t.
He said he then poured white spirits over him, stuck a blow torch to his face and set him on fire. He said he had thrown the toe in a bin. There were searches but it was never recovered.
Moran later admitted that he had acted alone and was charged with the murder.
The court was also shown a letter containing admissions that the accused wrote and sent from his prison cell in January, 2014. In it, he fully accepted that he murdered Mr Donnelly and negated the suggestion that anyone else had an active role in the death.
Ms Justice Margaret Heneghan ruled against the defence application and allowed the evidence to be called. Moran then changed his plea to guilty.
Detective Sergeant Tom Lynch told this morning’s sentencing hearing that Mr Donnelly was an only child, whose father had died when he was a teenager. He said that his mother was not in good health and was in a home.
He had worked as a truck driver and had lived in England, where he had a daughter. She was nine years old at the time of his death.
The detective said he believed he was living homeless in the Phoenix Park by choice.
“He had substantial savings and was the owner of two houses,” he said.
He said that the deceased was not known to gardai and that no allegations of any impropriety had been made against him while he was living.
He said a childhood friend had explained that Mr Donnelly had suffered from dysmorphia and pushed people away as a result. He wouldn’t accept the diagnosis, the illness was untreated and he effectively became a loner.
He said the mother of his child had provided a victim impact statement, in which she said that he had worked hard every day to support her and their daughter. She described him as kind and honest.
She said that her daughter now had only her memories and photographs of her father, and would miss out on having him around for birthdays, Christmases and even her wedding day.
She said she would also find out one day how her father had been taken away in such a cruel and unjust way, and that this would have a profound impact on her life.
Mr Donnelly’s extended family also prepared a victim impact statement, which was read in court.
It said that his mother had been left without her only child, her ‘only ray of sunshine in the world’.
D Sgt Lynch said that Moran had 23 previous convictions, the most recent one being from February this year, when he was convicted of manslaughter. Cork Circuit Court had imposed a seven-year sentence with two suspended.
His other convictions were for aggravated burglary, threats to kill or seriously harm, possession of an article with intent to injure, assault causing harm, possession of knives or other articles and other more minor offences.
His barrister asked for his sentence to be backdated to the date he was remanded in custody, December 3rd, 2013.
Justice Heneghan agreed.
She said the details of the crime were very upsetting and noted that the victim’s daughter would probably come to know the details of the ‘heinous crime’.
Moran stood while she imposed the mandatory life sentence on him. He was then led away to the custody area to be transported back to prison.