Murder accused told gardaí he ‘snapped’

Darren Murphy. Pic: Cork Courts Limited

The man accused of murdering his girlfriend at her home in Passage West, Co Cork, more than five years ago told gardaí that he snapped, stabbed her in the neck, and set fire to the house.

Darren Murphy, aged 41, with an address at Dan Desmond Villas, Passage West, Co Cork, was in a relationship with Olivia Dunlea for several weeks before her death.

He was arraigned yesterday at the Central Criminal Court sitting at Angelsea St, Cork, on a charge of murdering the 36-year-old mother of three at her home at Pembroke Crescent, Pembroke Woods, Passage West, on February 17, 2013.

Murphy replied yesterday: “Not guilty to murder, guilty to manslaughter.”

Tom Creed, prosecuting, said the central issue which the seven women and five men of the jury would have to determine, in the case presided over by Mr Justice Pat McCarthy, was whether Mr Murphy intended to kill Ms Dunlea or intended to cause her serious harm. 

He said the State would have to prove such an intention before a verdict of guilty could be given by a jury.

Mr Creed went through evidence which he anticipated the jury would hear in the trial but stressed that his outline was not itself evidence.

He that Mr Murphy told gardaí when interviewed: “I snapped. I grabbed a knife at the side of the bed. I stabbed her two times in the neck. 

"I grabbed Olivia’s lighter and lit the quilt. I went downstairs and lit a fire in the middle of the kitchen table.”

Marie Cassidy’s pathology report on the remains of Ms Dunlea was referred to by Mr Creed yesterday. 

He said Dr Cassidy found six stab wounds, two behind the right ear and four to the front of the neck. 

One of the wounds behind the ear penetrated deep into her spinal canal, causing bleeding inside the skull. 

He said the pathologist would say that this wound was unlikely to have caused immediate death but could have caused paralysis.

“Dr Cassidy formed the view that she was alive and had not passed away when the fire started,” said Mr Creed. 

“The body position was face down on her bed. That suggested she made no attempt to escape.”

Mr Creed said Ms Dunlea had three children and that Mr Murphy had been her boyfriend for a period of six to eight weeks.

On the night of February 16, 2013, they went to the Rochestown Inn with three friends of Mr Murphy. The couple got a taxi back to Passage after midnight. 

Mr Creed said the taxi driver felt that they had drink taken but were not falling down drunk.

A neighbour reported the fire at the house and called the fire brigade. 

Mr Murphy was also called and came from his home to the scene, where he was described as crying and trying to get into the burning house but was stopped by fire personnel. 

Witnesses also said he was ringing Ms Dunlea’s phone number.

Witness Adrian Maxwell, a friend of Mr Murphy, was one of those in the group at the Rochestown Inn and he said everyone was chatting and in good form. 

He said that, a week earlier, he felt Mr Murphy was a bit off form and he asked him if everything was alright.

Mr Maxwell said Mr Murphy said he had suspicions that something was going on between Ms Dunlea and another man. 

Mr Maxwell agreed with Tim O’Leary, defending, that the defendant seemed a bit withdrawn that time.

The taxi driver on the journey from Rochestown to Passage on the night, Michael Ahern, testified:“Olivia was in good spirits. Darren was a bit quiet, frosty, grumpy in the back. There was a bit of tension in the air maybe.”

Asked if he felt the defendant was angry, Mr Ahern replied: “It was like he was boiling up inside.”

The late Ms Dunlea’s sister, Ann Power, got a missed call from her sister and could not get back to her by ringing and texting so she rang the defendant, who was crying and saying they had a fight and that her house was on fire. 

Later at the fire scene, she said he told her to fuck off when she asked why his clothes were inside out and back to front.

In the course of outlining anticipated evidence, Mr Creed said the accused gave gardaí clothing which he said he was wearing in Rochestown on the night out. 

CCTV later showed he had been wearing different clothing.

Confronted later about this, Mr Creed said the defendant said he made a mistake and that this clothing was in his bedroom. 

At this point, he allegedly said to the garda: “We had a massive row… I just snapped.”

Mr Creed said of the defendant’s interview with gardaí: “He said he hid the clothing under the decking and then put them in the attic later that night and these were the clothes he was actually wearing.”

The case continues today at the Central Criminal Court and is expected to go on for six to seven days.

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