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Savage murders of two men in Sligo among grim and gruesome criminal cases heard in 2023

Trials told of brutal attacks on schoolteacher Ashling Murphy and Donegal mother Jasmine McMonagle by their respective killers

When jailing Michael Bambrick almost 30 years ago for killing two women, whose bodies he dismembered, the late Mr Justice Paul Carney said crime had reached “a new level of depravity”.

Bambrick told gardaí he smothered Patricia McGauley and strangled Mary Cummins respectively in September 1991 and July 1992 after, he claimed, engaging in bondage sessions. He dismembered their bodies at his then home at St Ronan’s Park, Clondalkin with a paper knife and junior hacksaw before disposing of them.

Imposing an 18-year sentence in 1996 after Bambrick, then aged 44, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of both women, Carney said he feared that cases just as bad, and possibly worse, were yet to come.

The judge, who managed the Central Criminal Court (CCC) list up to his death in 2016, was right. Other shocking cases have included the brutal murder in June 2018 of schoolgirl Ana Kriegel by two teenage boys and the murder of childcare worker Elaine O’Hara by Graham Dwyer.

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This year, the CCC witnessed some very grim and gruesome cases*, including that of Yousef Palani.

A 23-year-old native of Iraq** who came here aged six with his family, who settled in Sligo, Palani pleaded guilty at the CCC in October to the murders of Aidan Moffitt (42) and Michael Snee (58) on April 10th and April 12th, 2022 respectively at their homes in Sligo.

Mr Moffit suffered 42 stab wounds and was decapitated. Mr Snee was found tied up on his bedroom floor and was stabbed 25 times in the head, neck and chest.

Palani also pleaded guilty to causing serious harm to Anthony Burke, who lost sight in one eye after being stabbed by Palani at Cleveragh Road in Sligo on April 9th, 2022.

His sentencing hearing was told Palani was motivated by hatred of gay men.

When imposing the mandatory life sentence, the trial judge, Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring said the violence visited upon the victims, who she described as “cherished and valuable” members of their communities, was “unspeakable”.

Palani’s case was dealt with while the separate trial continued in another courtroom in the CCC of Jozef Puska for the murder of a young primary schoolteacher, Ashling Murphy.

Despite what the prosecution described as “overwhelming” evidence against him, including a murder confession and DNA evidence, Puska maintained he was not guilty of the murder of 23-year-old Ms Murphy on the afternoon of January 12th, 2022 along the Grand Canal near her home in Tullamore, Co Offaly. Ms Murphy suffered 11 stab wounds in the right side of her neck.

The random nature of the violent attack on a young woman out jogging struck a chord nationally, many protests and vigils were held in the days and weeks afterwards, and the five-week trial attracted huge public and media interest.

It came as no surprise when the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict against Puska on November 9th. The 33-year-old, a native of Slovakia living in Mucklagh, Co Offaly, with his wife and five children since 2015, sat impassively as the verdict was delivered.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt, who spoke of “evil” in the courtroom, imposed the mandatory life sentence a week later after hearing from members of Ms Murphy’s family how her murder has devastated their lives.

Her mother Kathleen said: “My heart broke when I heard the bad news that Ashling was murdered. It was like having a stroke, my heart was ripped from my body. There is such a void in our house and in our life, it is horrendous. I can’t bear it.”

In her statement, Ashling’s sister Amy said: “This monster trespassed into our lives and stole the person most important to us in the most unforgivable way.” It was, she said, “nothing short of pure torture thinking of the terror Ashling must have felt being thrown into that deep dark undergrowth and that he was the last person she saw on this earth, the utmost evil she has ever encountered in her entire life”.

Last July, in the oldest prosecution for murder ever brought here, Noel Long went on trial at the CCC for the murder and sexual assault more than 40 years ago of a vulnerable woman, Nora Sheehan.

Long, now aged 74, with an address at Maulbawn, Passage West, Co Cork, had denied the murder of Ms Sheehan at an unknown place within the State between June 6th and 12th, 1981.

The trial heard Ms Sheehan went missing on June 6th, 1981 and her naked and bruised body was found by forestry workers six days later at The Viewing Point, Shippool Woods in Cork.

Long was brought before Cork District Court on July 7th, 1981 and charged with her murder.

The DPP subsequently decided the death in August 1981 of a pathologist who carried out a postmortem on Ms Sheehan’s body was an insurmountable obstacle in pursuing the murder charge and it was withdrawn in November 1981.

Due to developments in the science of DNA, Long was charged again in June 2022 with the murder of Ms Sheehan and his trial began on July 13th last. The jury heard evidence that a partial DNA profile generated from semen found in Ms Sheehan’s body matched DNA found on clothing taken from Long in 2021. Other evidence included fibres recovered from Ms Sheehan’s body which matched fibres from the carpeting in Long’s car.

After Long was convicted of murder by a unanimous jury verdict, Ms Sheehan’s granddaughter Katie, one of seven grandchildren whom Ms Sheehan “never got the chance to dote on”, read a victim impact statement on behalf of the victim’s family, including her sons Jerry, James Junior and Eugene. Ms Sheehan’s husband James, Katie said, died “completely heartbroken” four years after his wife’s murder.

“It feels as if we just existed for the longest time trying to take things day by day while the person responsible for our dear mother’s death has lived their life never taking accountability for their actions or showing an ounce of remorse,” she said.

In another grim case, a CCC jury heard in March of the savage killing of Jasmine McMonagle, a 28-year-old mother of two, by her boyfriend Richard Burke.

Originally from Donegal town but with an address in Killygordon, 32-year-old Burke was jailed for 14 years after being found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter on grounds of diminished responsibility. He must also undergo five years of post-release supervision and psychiatric care.

The trial heard Ms McMonagle made a distressed 999 call just after 4am on January 4th, 2019; gardaí from Lifford, 16km away, were at her Letterkenny home within 20 minutes. As they were trying to get in, Burke appeared, wielding a bloodstained meat cleaver.

Gardaí rang for reinforcements and a trained crisis negotiator arrived but, after seeing a young child at an upstairs window and a person lying in blood on the kitchen floor, it was decided to force entry.

Inside the house, Burke, who confronted the first officer with a glass breaking hammer and refused to put it down, was tasered, handcuffed and searched. A knife in a scabbard was found in his jacket along with two phones; his own and the mobile phone belonging to Ms McMonagle that had been used to make the 999 call.

Ms McMonagle’s two young daughters were found uninjured but their mother was lying dead in a pool of blood in the kitchen. Burke admitted he killed Ms McMonagle but denied murder. He told gardaí he became very angry when he realised she had phoned gardaí while he was out of the room.

“Because I hate guards, I just went ballistic, started punching the f**k out of her then strangling her with a rope. I was only trying to make her see sense.”

Burke claimed he hated violence towards women and denied using the meat cleaver to attack Ms McMonagle. “I didn’t use weapons, just fists,” he said.

He described himself as “like a bull” and said there was “no one to stop me”. “Normally other people are there to calm me down. “I killed her. I didn’t want to, man. I loved her so much.”

The trial heard the blunt force trauma to the young woman’s face may have been caused by fists, feet, the glass safety hammer found near her body, or a similar weapon. Death was due to ligature strangulation, with concussion and blood loss from multiple blunt and sharp force injuries as a contributory factor.

During his sentencing hearing, the court heard Burke’s responsibility for the killing was substantially diminished by a mental disorder possibly triggered or made worse by drug use over years.

Mental disorder also featured in the trial of Christina Anderson over what the trial judge described as a “ferocious” assault on a “defenceless stranger” as he tried to start his car outside her Dublin home.

Anderson (41) was undergoing a psychotic episode during her assault on Gareth Kelly (38) whom she stabbed five times in the early morning of February 25th, 2020.

She was initially charged with murder but the DPP last January accepted a plea of guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility due to a mental disorder.

The State accepted she was experiencing a psychotic episode due to bipolar affective disorder but said she did not qualify for the full defence of a not guilty by reason of insanity verdict.

A consultant psychiatrist, Dr Brenda Wright, told the trial that, at the time of the assault, Anderson falsely believed that Mr Kelly as a threat to her and her family.

Anderson’s counsel, Michael O’Higgins SC, had earlier outlined evidence of the “complete destruction” of his client’s rational mind in the weeks and months before the assault.

There was evidence she had become paranoid and delusional regarding what she believed to be a criminal conspiracy involving her neighbours, gardaí and others, including former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, he said.

Anderson has been in the Central Mental Hospital since shortly after the stabbing having been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Last June, she was jailed for eight years and must work with probation services and psychiatric treatment for four years after release or she will face a further three years in custody.

One of the most tragic cases before the court in a bleak year was that of Lynn Egar, who was jailed for life in late November after she pleaded guilty to the murder of her two children.

Thelma Dennany, aged five, and her brother Mikey, aged two, died as a result of Egar setting fire to the car in which they were sitting on September 9th 2022. Egar was pulled from the passenger seat by a passerby and suffered only minimal burns.

In a letter read to the court by her barrister Sean Gillane SC, Egar (49), of Winetown, Rathowen, Co Westmeath, apologised to everyone she had hurt and for the “pain, horror and suffering” she had caused to her family and her two “gorgeous children”.

“Looking back, there were other avenues I could and should have travelled,” she stated. “I’m full of regret.”

In another statement, the children’s father Michael Dennany spoke of his heartache and despair over their deaths. He had hoped to see his children through school and, “at a push to see them married, but I never thought I would bury them . . . the only comfort I have is that they are together forever”.

2023 also saw several brave survivors of rape and/or sexual assault speaking out after separate cases resulting in the jailing of their abusers.

Among them was 22-year-old Karen Harkin, from Co Donegal.

“Children should be loved, not abused,” Ms Harkin said after her father Michael Carter was sentenced last July to 11 years imprisonment, with six months suspended, for raping and assaulting her over four years from when she was aged nine to the eve of her 13th birthday.

Carter (55) had pleaded not guilty and said he did not accept the jury’s verdict.

The trial heard the crimes occurred when Ms Harkin was visiting her father’s house after her parents separated. She disclosed the abuse to an aunt in 2016 and contact was made with gardaí and by 2018 Ms Harkin felt able to make a statement.

Speaking outside court after the sentence, Ms Harkin, flanked by her sisters and other family members, said: “He stole my childhood from me in such a malicious way, a childhood that I will never get back. Even though I get no satisfaction from my father going to prison today, I know that this is the justice that nine-year-old me deserves. This is what I have to do for me”.

She was speaking out “not only for myself but for everyone else out there that suffered, or is suffering from abuse”, Ms Harkin said. “I hope that speaking out will help end the stigma that is associated with these type of crimes today.”

*Some cases may be subject to appeal.

**This article was amended on January 3rd as it incorrectly stated Yousef Palani was born in Pakistan, when in fact he was born in Iraq.

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