The 18 year-old daughter of the man accused of murdering 14 year-old Melissa Mahon has told a jury that she saw her father on a bed with the girl with his arm around her neck before he tied into a sleeping bag and threw her body into a river.
Samantha Conroy gave evidence at the Central Criminal Court via video link on the seventh day of the trial of Ronald McManus (44), also known as Ronnie Dunbar, of Rathbraughan Park, Sligo. He denies murdering Melissa in September 2006 and also denies threatening to kill Samantha.
Samantha told the court that her father had jumped off the bed and left the room when she walked in. She said she tried to resuscitate Melissa who had turned purple and was struggling for air.
They jury heard that when the accused returned to the room Melissa was not breathing. He had a sleeping bag and put Melissa into it head first. He then zipped it up and tied the end with a neck tie. Ms Conroy said she could smell urine coming from the sleeping bag.
She said her father lifted the sleeping bag and carried her down the stairs, “roughly, like she was a rag doll”. She said she heard Melissa’s neck break as he shoved her into the boot of his car.
Ms Conroy said she and her younger sister were present and the accused told them to get into the car. He drove for 20 minutes to a spot they had been to many times before which he called “the secret wood” along the banks of the River Bonnet.
She said her father did not really show any expression. She said he took Melissa’s body from the boot and dragged the sleeping bag across the ground to the water’s edge. He then told his daughters to grab the bottom of the bag.
Ms Conroy said she did so because, “my dad was a very controlling man and we were scared of him”. She said he was a very big man and they were young girls at the time.
She told the court that she lifted the bag and went knee-high into the water. They threw the bag on the accused’s count of three.
She said it sank slowly and the accused threw stones at it and said he would go in after it if it did not sink completely. She said it went down after five minutes and then they left the scene.
Ms Conroy said the accused told his daughters that they were accessories to Melissa’s murder and he would do the same to them if they told the gardaí what he had done. She said she was very scared, “he’s a very dominant man, everyone is scared of him, he comes across very aggressive”.
She said that the accused then took his daughters to his regular football game that evening. She said that the following day he disinfected his car, burned the seat covers and burned Melissa’s belongings.
Ms Conroy told Isobel Kennedy SC, prosecuting, that Melissa had told her that she was in a sexual relationship with the accused. She said her father overheard their conversation and admitted that it was true.
She said that she had become friendly with Melissa at school and the deceased had told her that she was being abused at home.
In August 2006 Melissa had run away from her home and Ms Conroy said she was in her house during that time.
She said her father had cut a hole in the base of a bed for her to hide in when gardaí came to look for her.
She said that on an occasion when a social worker and a garda came to her home to look for Melissa hid behind the sofa at the direction of the accused.
Under cross examination by defence counsel, Brendan Grehan SC, Ms Conroy agreed that, apart from her younger sister, she and her father were the only people who could say what happened on the night Melissa died.
She accepted that her sister had given a different version of events but said that was because her sister, “was so brain washed by Dad, he has control over her”.
Ms Conroy said her father had kicked her out of his house on a number of occasions in 2007. She said he said she had been taking drugs and drinking and getting him into trouble with gardaí. She said she “robbed from Tesco” to get him into trouble.
She told Mr Grehan that her sister was “obsessed by dad and would have stuck up for him”. She agreed that Melissa Mahon called her father ‘Dad’ but said: “that was only a cover up”.
Ms Conroy told Ms Kennedy that she had not initially liked Melissa because she got her little sister into trouble but that changed when she started to “doss” (play truant)
with them. She alleged that Melissa told her she was in love with the accused and they were having a sexual relationship.
She said her father overheard that conversation, came into the room they were in and admitted it. Ms Conroy said her father first slept with Melissa when she first ran away from home.
Ms Conroy told the court how her father organised for his girlfriend to bring Melissa to a wooded area to meet a social worker during the time she was missing from her home in August. Ms Conroy said she was also at the meeting and was told by her father to hug Melissa as though she had not seen her in ages.
She said her father later persuaded Melissa to go into care by telling her that he and his girlfriend would fight for her.
Ms Conroy told the court that in September 2006 her family moved into the house adjacent to the one they had been renting but that her father had made copies of the keys to the original house and used them to let Melissa into that house when she had gone missing from the care of the Health Service Executive.
She said her father asked her cook food for Melissa and she brought it to her by climbing over the back wall. She said that her father was missing from her home the next morning but said: “I knew where he was”.
She said that that night Melissa stayed in their new house with them and Ms Conroy gave her an old nightdress to wear. The next day Ms Conroy came home from ‘Youth Reach’ at 5pm and found her sister crying. Her sister told her not to go upstairs but she did so.
Ms Conroy said she went into her father’s bedroom and saw her father on a double bed with Melissa. She said the girl was on her side and her father was behind her with his arm around her neck. She said she thought he was giving her a hug.
Ms Conroy said she walked out of the room but her sister was behind her crying and she burst back into the room and turned the light on. She said she thought Melissa and her father “were getting up to sexual activities”.
She said her father jumped off the bed and Melissa fell on to her back. She said Melissa's eyes were closed, her face purple and lips blue. Her father ran out of the room and Ms Conroy said she tried to resuscitate her friend by pressing on her chest.
She said Melissa’s chest was going up and down as she struggled for air and a high pitched noise was coming from her mouth. “I was screaming her name but she didn’t respond..... she was dead.”
Ms Conroy said Melissa was wearing the nightdress she had given to her the previous evening and her hair had been cut into a “Cleopatra style fringe” by the accused.
The trial continues before Mr Justice Barry White and a jury of six men and six women. It was expected to last for five weeks and has completed its eight day.