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Hammer killer wife walks free after six years

A woman who beat her husband to death with a hammer, has walked free from prison.

Dolores O'Neill (56) was freed early from her sentence for the manslaughter of her husband Declan, whom she hit 26 times with a hammer and stabbed 21 times.

She walked free from Mountjoy's Dochas women's prison after serving less than six years of her scheduled eight year sentence.

The husband killer has been given a month off that sentence, in addition to two years remission.

On October 12, 2004 Dolores was found not guilty of murder but guilty of the manslaughter of her 46-year-old husband Declan at their Coolamber Park home in Knocklyon, Dublin.

During the six-day trial, Ms O'Neill told the court her husband had been a heavy drinker and she had been the victim of physical and verbal abuse over the course of their marriage.

Former State Pathologist Professor John Harbison testified that Mr O'Neill died as a result of multiple blows to the head, having detected at least 24 marks from a blunt instrument.

Prof Harbison said there were fractures to the skull and the root of the eye-sockets, bleeding in the skull and bruising of the brain. These injuries, thought to be from a hammer, resulted in death.

The jury was told that Declan O'Neill, who also received more than 20 knife wounds to the neck, may have been asleep during the attack.

The trial heard the lack of defence wounds on the body indicated he was asleep or disabled by the first blow and put up no resistance.

In her evidence, Ms O'Neill spoke of a painful marriage, claiming that the first outburst of violence from her husband came two weeks before their wedding in 1978.

She spoke of her late husband's drinking, saying that it frequently left the family short of cash for household expenses.

When asked why she had never secured a barring order, she said she knew it sounded stupid in hindsight, but the stigma attached had prevented her.

Justice Carney noted that there was no toxicology evidence presented at the trial indicating the presence of alcohol or drugs in the victim's body at the time of the killing.

Ms O'Neill, who had worked with the Employment Equality Authority, said her husband had various affairs and left home throughout their marriage, but he used to text and phone her saying she was the love of his life and he wanted to come home.

He had returned home a short time before he was killed.

The bitter row which led to his death followed a violent weekend away in Cork.


The accused admitted that after breaking free from her husband's stranglehold, she pushed him to the bed and it was then she spotted a hammer on the floor.

She remembered hitting him with the hammer, but said she had no recollection of using a knife.

"I just couldn't take any more. I knew he was going to go for me," she told the court.

After she killed her husband, Dolores O'Neill drove herself and her two sons to her sister's house in Ashford, Co Wicklow.

Explaining why she made that decision instead of summoning help for her husband, she said: "I wish I had. I wish I had. I didn't know what was happening. I was in such a state. I just wanted my kids to be safe. My mind was in hell.''

Before being led away, she embraced her two sons, Brian (24) and Conor (17), who sat behind her in court throughout the trial.

However, the victim's family were distraught at the verdict and his brother, Brian, stressed in court Declan was not "the monster" portrayed.

"We have lost a member of our family, who we deeply loved, and whose character this court is not aware of. What we heard in court was not our brother."

As his siblings wept, he told the court how some of them had lost their jobs because they could not cope.

Addressing the jury, Mr O'Neill said he was disappointed they had not heard both sides of the story: "His efforts to speak from the grave didn't see the light of day. You basically have not heard about my brother.


"You have made up your mind from what you heard in court. I will not fault you for your decision. The fault lies with the justice system in this country.''

He also referred to the evidence of the former State Pathologist Professor John Harbison, who declared that the deceased had been a healthy man. This, Mr O'Neill said, was evidence that his brother had not been a heavy drinker as alleged.

"The character of Declan -- no one in this court knows. He never once took the name of Jesus in vain. He never once said "F off'. He loved his music, playing guitars. He even wrote songs," he recalled.