Jury deliberating in trial of man who strangled estranged partner to death

Jury deliberating in trial of man who strangled estranged partner to death
Brigid Maguire via Facebook

The jury will resume deliberations on Monday in trial of a man, charged with murdering the mother of his children, by strangling her in her new home.

Danny Keena of Empor, Ballynacargy, Co Westmeath is charged with the murder of 43-year-old Brigid Maguire on November 14, 2015. His Central Criminal Court trial has heard that she died of strangulation.

The 55-year-old farmer has pleaded not guilty to murder, but guilty to her manslaughter at her home on Main Street, Ballynacargy. He had previously strangled her to the point of dizziness, and she and her two children had left him only two months before her death.

The defence has asked for a verdict of manslaughter rather than murder by reason of provocation; Ms Maguire had told him he was a bad father to their son.

The prosecution has said that this case was one of the least appropriate for a defence of provocation, noting testimony that he had previously strangled her and threatened to kill her.

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy charged the seven men and five women of the jury, telling them that there was no room for sympathy or prejudice. He said that the fact the accused was sorry was of no relevance.

He explained that there were two available verdicts: guilty of murder or not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter.

The jury had spent two hours and 11 minutes considering its verdict today before being sent home for the weekend. Deliberations will resume on Monday morning.

Yesterday: Remy Farrell SC, prosecuting, pointed to evidence that the accused had threatened to kill his partner on previous occasions. He had also described to his niece the method he would use to take his own life afterwards.

Mr Farrell said this showed that he had certainly given a little thought to killing her and what he would do afterwards.

“This is a man, who had committed the act of strangulation on his partner prior to actually killing her,” he said. “That’s extraordinary.”

He was referring to the accused man’s admission to both his sister and gardai that he had 'choked her previously. He had told gardai that Ms Maguire had been dizzy as a result.

“The defence say that the last occasion where he did it is the occasion where he lost complete control and that it’s not really his fault…. she provoked him,” he said.

“The reason he did what he did was because he was angry, he was jealous, he was bitter,” suggested Mr Farrell. “What he did on that night was something he’d done before, although with much, much worse consequences.”

He told the jury that part of the definition of provocation specified that there could be no time for passions to cool. He pointed to the accused man’s description of having held his hands around her neck for 60 seconds.

“It’s death by strangulation, a very up-close and personal way to kill somebody, face to face,” he said, asking the jurors to just sit in the jury room for 60 seconds and note how long it felt.

“Consider how long it would be to have your hands around someone else’s throat,” he suggested. “Brigid Maguire was, unfortunately, not given a short death.”

He said this was not a case of provocation.

“This is one of the clearest cases of murder you might hope for,” he said.

However, Colm Smyth SC, defending, asked the jury to consider the circumstances that prevailed at the time.

He said that the couple had been separated since September, that his client had been providing an income to help maintain the family but was finding it difficult to be away from his children, especially his son.

He noted that it had come to Mr Keena’s attention that their son had been absent from school.

“It was in that respect that he approached the house on the evening, to talk to her,” he said, reminding the jury that a witness had seen him around this time and described him as ‘normal’.

“Brigid was texting during this time,” he continued.

He was referring to evidence gleaned from her phone, which showed intimate communication with a male.

“It’s clear she wasn’t listening to him (the accused) and told him to ‘f**k off’ and ‘get the f**k out of the house’,” he said.

“I suggest you can infer that she had little interest in what Danny Keena had to say,” he said.

“He was anxious that the boy would spend some time with him,” he continued. “He said it was declared by Brigid that he was no good of a father.”

The accused was deeply hurt, he said.

“You must look through his eyes, warts and all,” said Mr Smyth.

“It’s probably one of the most hurtful things you can say to a man,” he suggested. “It brings into question everything a man stands for….. I can’t think of anything more hurtful than that.”

He said that this hurtful comment combined with the circumstances of the evening and preceding weeks had triggered in him the reaction that led to what he did.

“To say that because he was an abuser in the past, he was not entitled to the defence of provocation is utter nonsense,” he said. “If ever there was a case where provocation should apply, I suggest it’s this case.”

He asked for a verdict of not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter.

The couple’s teenaged son had been one of the last witnesses in the trial. He became emotional as he gave evidence yesterday morning, testifying that the accused had previously threatened to kill his mother.

The boy, who is not being named because of his age, was giving evidence via live television link.

He became upset as soon as Mr Farrell asked him to describe what it was like when he and his sister were living with their parents in Empor.

“It was really sad because he’d never leave my mother alone and he’d always pick on her,” he replied. “He’d threaten her and say everything was your fault and all this. He would say I’d kill you.”

He was asked if he remembered an incident with milk.

“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 also recalled being woken one night when he was in sixth class.

“I walked in and he held the hammer and was threatening her,” he said. “I was so scared that me and my sister were trying to protect her. He told us to go away but we didn’t.”

He said his father then went and got a poker.

“Only for we were there that night,” he began. “If I went away, he would have done something really bad to my mother.”

He said he had to go back to bed.

“He wouldn’t let us leave,” he explained. “I slept with my mother but I couldn’t sleep at all.”

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 recalled that he, his mother and sister finally moved out in September 2015, but that they had tried to leave before that.

“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.”

Under cross examination by Mr Smyth, he agreed that he had enjoyed going to football matches with his father at weekends.

He was asked again about the incident with the milk and became so upset that he was given a break from testifying.

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