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Woman guilty of murdering partner after stabbing him to death in drunken row

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Paula Farrell outside court. Photo: Court Collins

Paula Farrell outside court. Photo: Court Collins

Paula Farrell outside court. Photo: Court Collins

A Central Criminal Court jury has found a 47-year-old woman guilty of murdering her partner after she stabbed him to death during a drunken row - the second time she has been convicted of this offence.

Paula Farrell of Rathmullen Park in Drogheda was found guilty of the murder of Wayne McQuillan (30) at her home on New Year's Day 2014 by unanimous verdict. She had pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter. They had been in a relationship for a year and Mr McQuillan was ten years younger than the defendant.

The panel of seven men and four women rejected Farrell's defence that she was provoked after she claimed her boyfriend Wayne 'Quilly' McQuillan sexually assaulted and began to strangle her with his hands when she refused to have sex with him. It was the defence case that if there was a reasonable possibility that the Louth woman had acted as a result of provocation then they must find her not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter.  

Instead the Central Criminal Court jury accepted the State's case that the mother-of-three had intended to cause "at least serious injury" to Mr McQuillan when she picked the biggest knife from a knife block in the kitchen and stabbed him four times with it.

In his closing speech, prosecution counsel Gerard Clarke SC with Maurice Coffey BL called the sexual assault allegation "an outrageous lie" and said it had been told against a man who was now dead and could not give any alternative account of events. Mr Clarke submitted that the account of a sexual attack taking place was first put forward by Farrell 16 months after Mr McQuillan had died and she had told gardai in her interviews that nothing sexual had happened between her and the deceased on the night.

Evidence was given in the trial that Farrell had told onlookers not to call an ambulance after Mr McQuillan collapsed outside her house following the attack. One witness testified that the Louth woman had shouted out the doorway of her house: "Don't ring an ambulance, you must be joking to ring an ambulance."

This was Farrell's third time being tried for murdering Mr McQuillan. Farrell first went on trial in July 2015 and was given the mandatory life sentence after she was found guilty of murder. However, she had her conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal in June 2018 over the trial judge’s decision not to allow the partial defence of provocation be considered by the jury. A retrial was ordered and a jury failed to reach a verdict in her second trial in July 2019. 

Farrell gave evidence in her trial that Mr McQuillan had tried to have sex with her, that she did not want to have sex and that he had started strangling her with his hands before she went to the kitchen for a knife. "I thought I was dying, I couldn't breathe," she told her barrister Caroline Biggs SC with Edward Doocey BL. Farrell accepted in her evidence that she stabbed Mr McQuillan with a knife four times but said she only remembered stabbing him twice.

Former Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis testified that he found four stab wounds on Mr McQuillan, one to the upper right arm, one to the front of the chest and two wounds to the left shoulder which were situated 1.1cm apart from each other and parallel. The expert witness told the jury that Mr McQuillan could have potentially survival if he had received prompt medical intervention.

The 11 jurors spent four hours and 55 minutes deliberating over two days and found Farrell guilty of murder by unanimous verdict.

Following today’s verdict, Mr Justice Paul McDermott thanked the jury for their engagement in the process, for staying with the case and the careful consideration they had given it. He said the trial had been difficult in its content and nature but the circumstances in which they had served as jurors was "unique and unprecedented" due to the "crisis developing" outside the courtroom.

"Thank you for the attention shown throughout the trial and your attention and dedication to the task. I think you found that its very important to participate but your participation went beyond the call of duty in this case and I appreciate your forbearance," he remarked.

The judge said he could not offer the jurors anything "in thanks and gratitude" except to excuse them from jury service for life. He wished the jurors a safe journey home as well as safety to their families.

Members of Mr McQuillan's family wept when the verdict was announced by the court registrar. Farrell made no reaction when the verdict was announced.

Prosecution counsel Mr Clarke then read a victim impact statement prepared by the deceased's sister, Audrey McQuillan, on behalf of the McQuillan family.

Ms McQuillan said that her brother Wayne was her only sibling and the only son to her parents Bernie and Jim McQuillan.

"We brought him into this world and loved him, we protected him and kept him safe as parents should do. It pains us therefore to think that as Wayne progressed in life and formed new relationships, relationships that we had hoped would be loving and caring, that it was in fact one of these relationships that would lead to his death. On January 1 2014, Paula Farrell killed Wayne," said Ms McQuillan.

The deceased's sister said that it would haunt their family forever to think that Wayne was killed by someone who should have loved and protected him as they had. "His last moments on this earth were moments of pain and fear and we were not there to hold his hand and comfort him," she said.

"Not only did Paula Farrell take our son and brother from us but she also took all those hopes and dreams. She took Wayne's future and our future too. Paula Farrell has been home for two Christmases and attended her son's confirmation since she was locked up three and a half years ago. There will be no more birthday parties, no more Christmas gatherings and the New Year will never be the same for us again," she continued.

Ms McQuillan said that her brother will never get to live out his dreams and fulfil his ambitions. "We will never see him get his first home, get married or have children. We will never get to share those celebrations with him. Our family is forever broken," she said.

"When Paula Farrell killed Wayne, she killed a part of us too. We are so angry with her for taking our son and brother from us prematurely. This has been going on for six years now. It has been a long, hard and stressful process for my Mam, Dad and I. We cannot forgive her for the terrible pain and suffering she inflicted on us. Our lives will never be the same again. Paula Farrell has also left us feeling a fear, a fear of bumping into her or meeting her while we go about our daily business. We live in the same area as her and we do not ever want to see her face again," she said.

Finally, Ms McQuillan said they heard Farrell use the words "hurt" and "numb" during the trial but the hurt she had inflicted upon their family was "unbearable" and some days they wished they could feel numb. "She has imposed on us a life sentence of living without Wayne. There are no words to describe the pain and suffering we feel," she concluded.

After hearing the statement from Ms McQuillan, Mr Justice McDermott sentenced Farrell to the mandatory term of life imprisonment for murder. The sentence was backdated to July 1 2015, when she went into custody.

"I want to express my condolences to the McQuillan family for their loss and extend my thanks to all those participating in the trial for the times we are living in," he concluded.

In charging the jury last week, Mr Justice McDermott said they had to ask themselves whether Farrell, with her particular history and personality, may have been provoked to such an extent as to lose her self-control in response to alleged sexual assault, so that she was unable to prevent herself from committing the stabbing.

The judge said if they were satisfied of a reasonable possibility based on credible evidence that Farrell had such a total loss of self-control then the verdict was not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter. The real issue in this case comes down to the mental state of Farrell when she killed Mr McQuillan, he said.

Consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Brenda Wright, testifying on behalf of the defence, told the court that Farrell was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol dependency at the time she stabbed her partner to death. However, Dr Wright said the PTSD had not played a "significant role" in the killing.

Dr Sally Linehan, a consultant forensic psychiatrist testifying on behalf of the prosecution, submitted that the accused's behaviour on the night was influenced by her intoxication and not her mental disorder.

Farrell told gardai in her interviews that she and Mr McQuillan had started "tackling each other" in the kitchen on the night and "he had me by the wrist and neck and I got a bump on my head from him." She said Mr McQuillan "had me on the two-seater in the kitchen" and when she got up, she said, "I didn't want him to get the better of me. I got the knife then and I stuck the knife in him." She said she thought she stabbed him "towards the top of his chest" and a second time "a bit lower down".

The former factory worker also testified that she was sexually abused by a named man from seven years of age until 14 and told him in later years that he had "ruined" her life. She said that she began to drink heavily when she was 20 years of age in order "to block out" her problems as she could not cope with them and would drink up to 11 cans of cider a day. She said that she met Mr McQuillan on the night of her 40th birthday in 2013 and there was always "drink on board" when they argued over "stupid things".

Counsel for the State Mr Clarke argued in his closing address that the prosecution did not have to prove an intention to kill and it was sufficient to prove an intention to cause serious injury. Mr Clarke also pointed to evidence given by two psychiatrists that the killing of Mr McQuillan was due to Farrell's intoxication on the night and not any mental problem.

In her closing statement, defence counsel Ms Biggs told the jurors that her client is classified as "borderline intellectually disabled" and had six litres of alcohol in her system on the night. Ms Biggs emphasised that whilst both psychiatrists had substantially favoured intoxication as the reason why events had occurred on the night, they had also agreed that mental factors had played a role.

Although one criminal trial continues, this was the last trial at the Central Criminal Court with an attending jury as a result of reduced court sittings in the capital due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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