Sunday 22 April 2018

'I played dead like in the movies' - Irish mum on how she fought for her life as ex-partner is jailed for attempted murder

Warning: Graphic photos of injuries sustained in attack

Martin Mahon (left) has been jailed for 30 years for his attack on Gillian McCann Johnston
Martin Mahon (left) has been jailed for 30 years for his attack on Gillian McCann Johnston
Gillian McCann Johnston
Martin Mahon
Gillian McCann Johnston's injuries
Gillian McCann Johnston's injuries
Gillian McCann Johnston's injuries
Gillian McCann Johnston's injuries
Gillian McCann Johnston's injuries
Cathal McMahon

Cathal McMahon

An Irish mother who narrowly survived after she was stabbed by a jealous ex, who then turned the blade on himself, has described how she fought for her life.

Gillian McCann Johnston (50) pleaded with Dubliner Martin Mahon (59) to think of her children as he stabbed her.

She only managed to survive the attack in her Florida home by knocking over a drinks cabinet - alerting neighbours - and then playing dead.

Mahon was jailed last week for 30 years for attempted murder.

Gillian McCann Johnston
Gillian McCann Johnston

The mother-of-two, from Belfast, met Mahon when he had returned to Dublin from Florida for a visit in 2010.

The pair hit it off and she followed him over to the US the following year.

Gillian McCann Johnston's injuries
Gillian McCann Johnston's injuries

However, things started to go sour in April 2011 when her adult children came over to visit them.

He was "rude and mean" to them and she eventually moved out to a hotel.

Gillian McCann Johnston's injuries
Gillian McCann Johnston's injuries

What started then was a cycle of threats, followed by apologies leading to reconciliation that would continue for a number of years.

Ms McCann Johnston explained that he did become physical against her on one occasion, holding her down against her will.

Gillian McCann Johnston's injuries
Gillian McCann Johnston's injuries

She managed to escape by throwing a set of keys against his head and fleeing to a friend’s home.

The Belfast woman laughs now when she describes what happened next.

Gillian McCann Johnston's injuries
Gillian McCann Johnston's injuries

"He came over to my friend’s house carrying a massive teddy bear and his face was covered in blood.

"He was a charmer. He always kept saying he was sorry. When he was working he would come home with expensive jewellery for me."

She said Martin would also use a mixture of violence and threats to control her - regularly vowing to have her deported from the US.

Eventually Ms McCann Johnston took out a restraining order against him in September 2014.

A month later he arrived at her Fort Lauderdale home begging her to remove the order and go for a walk with him in the park. She said she dreads to think what might have happened if she had taken him up on the offer.

Instead she gave him $20 and told him to never return. But just hours later he sneaked into the flat.

Recounting the incident Ms McCann Johnston said she woke up early on the October morning and walked outside to empty her bins.

"I walked back inside the apartment and I remember thinking I saw something move. I looked at the clock and it was 5.50am.

"The next thing he put his hand over my mouth and he stabbed me in the neck. It missed the main artery in the neck by millimetres. If the blade went one way I would have bled out in a minute. If it went the other I would have been paralysed for life."

She continued: "Then he spoke for the first time. He said: ‘If I can’t have you then nobody can.’

"I asked ‘what about our kids?’

"By this stage I was lying on the floor and all the blood was spurting out of my neck. I thought this was it. He was on top of me."

Ms McCann Johnston described how she grabbed a globe shaped drinks cabinet and pulled it to the ground. The noise raised the alarm and her friend knocked on the door to see if she was okay.

"He had his hand over my mouth so I bit into it and screamed, 'he's trying to kill me.'

"He pulled me back by the hair and stabbed me right in the back."

Ms McCann Johnston knew her only hope of surviving was to play dead so she made noises “like you would see in the movies” pretending she was taking her last breath.

Martin then attempted to take his own life.

"It was 10 minutes from when he stabbed me to when my neighbour called 911 but it felt like a lifetime."

Both Martin and his victim were taken by ambulance to hospital where they survived.

"You don’t realise how much you want to live until you think you are going to die," she said.

Days later he appeared for the first time at Broward County Court on attempted murder charges.

In court he denied the attack, claiming Ms McCann Johnston had stabbed him. However, he was found guilty of attempted murder in December 2016.

During the five-day murder trial his victim spent two days on the stand giving evidence.

Last week he was jailed for the maximum 30 years and Ms McCann Johnston said he is likely to be deported if he is ever released.

She is happy with the sentence and is now trying to move on with her life.

"I am going to have the scars the rest of my life. But the physical part is easier to get away from than the emotional part. I don’t go out in the dark," she said.

"I’ve had nightmares that he is coming after me, trying to kill me but I always get away from him. I am having them less and less."

She continued: "I am in a relationship now with a real sweetheart who wouldn’t raise a finger to me."

Although she runs a successful cleaning business in Fort Lauderdale the mother now has ambitions of retraining in victim’s advocacy.

"I want to advocate for the victims of all crimes, not just domestic abuse."

She said she follows the cases of murder-suicide that have been reported in Ireland and feels that the public often shows too much sympathy towards the perpetrator if they take their own lives. She believes victims are often forgotten.

If you are affected by the article above, call the Samaritans Helpline on 116-123 or Women's Aid on 1800 341 900

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