A Westmeath man faces a life sentence, after being convicted of murdering the mother of his children by "strangling the life out of her" two months after she had left him.
Danny Keena of Empor, Ballynacargy was on trial at the Central Criminal Court, charged with the murder of 43-year-old Brigid Maguire on November 14, 2015; she and their two children had left him that September.
The 55-year-old farmer had pleaded not guilty to murder, but guilty to her manslaughter at her new home on Main Street, Ballynacargy. He claimed she had provoked him by telling him he was a bad father.
The court heard that he had previously strangled her to the point where she had stopped breathing. However, the jury did not hear this evidence, which was contained in the statement of a witness read out during legal argument. Instead, the jury heard his own admission that he had previously ‘choked’ her to the point of dizziness.
The trial heard that the accused and deceased had been a couple for 25 years and had two children. However, the relationship had become abusive, with both children testifying to seeing their father being violent with her.
Jade Maguire, who had found her mother’s body, recalled an occasion when she and her younger brother were forced to defend their mother from their poker-wielding father.
She said the accused had first been waving a hammer into her mother’s face, shouting that he was going to kill her.
“She was very afraid and she had marks on her neck,” she said.
His children had tried to calm him and he had put the hammer down and left the room. However, he had then returned with the poker, she said.
“That night we tried to leave, and were outside but he tried to stop us with a baseball bat,” she added, explaining that they eventually moved to a house in the nearby village of Ballynacargy.
Her younger brother gave emotional evidence via live television link due to his young age.
He recalled an incident of abuse that he found extremely upsetting.
“My mother got her hair done and he just came with the milk and spilled it all over her hair and she’d done nothing to him,” he replied. “I told her I hated him for what he did, for what he would be doing to her.”
He said he used to ask his father, whom he described as a bully, why he had to take everything out on his mother.
He also explained that they had tried to leave him before.
“He’d never let her. He’d always find a way to stop her,” he said. “When we moved that time, he was at work.”
He said it was good to get away.
“Mammy was happy,” he said. “But, he started threatening her again. He used to call into the house.”
The accused man’s sister, Mary Wallace Snr, told the jury that he had once told her that he had choked Ms Maguire.
However, her garda statement, which was read out in the jury’s absence went further.
She’d recalled him ringing her "a bit panicked" in 2015.
“Danny said: ‘I pushed Bridgie. I thought I was after killing her’,” she’d stated. “He said he was going to kill her.”
She had said that he had also told her that he had choked her with his hands.
“She wasn’t breathing,” she continued. “He thought she was gone… a moment of madness… he thought she was dead.”
She also said that she had spoken to the deceased about that incident.
“She said: ‘I was in heaven for a few minutes’. I said: ‘Oh Bridgie, get out of there,” she had said.
Mrs Wallace agreed in court that this statement was true and accurate. However, it was not disclosed to the jury.
That witness’s daughter, Mary Wallace Jnr, testified that he had told her that if he met his partner on the road, he would run his car into her before taking his own life.
The only account of what happened on the night of the killing came from the accused during his garda interviews.
He said that it had come to his attention that their son had been absent from school and so he went to Ms Maguire’s new home to discuss it.
He said they had argued and that she had told him he was no good to the children and that’s why they had moved.
He told gardaí that she was always sending and receiving messages on Facebook when they had lived together. He complained that she was doing the same that evening, and her phone records showed intimate communiction with a male at that time.
“I said: ‘You’re some mother to them, whoring in around Mullingar, I was vexed at this stage,” he said, explaining that he had followed her up to her bedroom.
“Next a text message came on the phone. I said: ‘That must be your f***ing partner in Mullingar. You must be going to meet him’,” he told detectives.
He said she had told him it was none of his business.
“I said: ‘Go on and whore yourself in around Mullingar’. With that, she jumped out of the bed and came for me really violently. She was vexed,” he said. “She had her two hands out into my face. I put my two hands out to block her.”
He said that he moved his hands onto her neck.
He put his two hands around an interviewing garda’s neck to show him how he was holding her.
“What were you doing there?” he was asked.
“Choking her,” he replied.
“For how long?” he was asked.
“For a few minutes, I’d say,” he replied.
“She fell to the ground,” he continued. “Her tongue was all blue. She was fighting for her life at that stage. I knew the damage was done.”
He said she had told him that she was dying and he said that he could hear her gurgling.
He said that he had applied "a good bit of pressure", but said he hadn’t meant to kill her.
“I knew I was after killing her and that’s when I panicked,” he said.
He said he had tried to help her by rubbing her belly, but had run when he realised she was gone. He said he had tried to take his own life twice before spending the night in a hay barn.
The defence had asked for a verdict of manslaughter rather than murder by reason of provocation.
“She told me I was a bad father,” were the first words he had uttered when the local sergeant arrived at the house where he had turned up after 24 hours on the run.
“It’s probably one of the most hurtful things you can say to a man,” suggested his barrister, Colm Smyth SC, in his closing speech. “It brings into question everything a man stands for.”
The prosecution pointed to the evidence that the accused had previously strangled her and threatened to kill her.
Remy Farrell SC said he had clearly intended his actions.
“He stared at her, presumably face to face, for a period of time and literally strangled the life out of her,” he said.
Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy had explained that there were two available verdicts: guilty of murder or not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter.
The jury reached its majority verdict of 11 to one after four hours and 55 minutes spent deliberating.
He will be given the mandatory life sentence on Friday after victim impact statements are given. He was remanded in custody until then.