Murderer has annual Mass in prison for victim

CONVICTED murderer Sean Courtney has an annual Mass said in prison for his victim, Patricia O’Toole, his father has revealed.

James Courtney contacted RTÉ’s Joe Duffy radio show to complain about media coverage of the birth of a child to his son’s partner, conceived while the life prisoner was on temporary release.

It is believed the birth of the child has been presented as a factor in Courtney’s case to the parole board to have a date set for his release after serving 19 years for the murder of Ms O’Toole, 32, who died in the Dublin mountains after he hit her with a rock in 1991.

Courtney, a former soldier admitted killing Ms O’Toole but claimed he was insane at the time – due to post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his experiences in Lebanon.

Victims support groups are concerned the case could set a precedent for other prisoners to seek early release because they too fathered children on temporary release.

Mr Courtney Snr said an “innocent child” should not be brought into media reports, complaining that one tabloid had even reproduced the infant’s birth certificate. When questioned on whether his son was now seeking early release partly based on his new family he said: “I think the baby would be A1 with Sean and the girl, but the whole thing is the papers should give the baby a break.”

Asked if Courtney would have somewhere to live when released his father said “he can live with me, and my neighbours have no problems with him – they have met him”.

He said his son “would marry his new partner” – who he met as pen pal while in prison – “tomorrow if he was released”.

Mr Courtney explained how his son sold his house after being convicted for the brutal murder in order to allow his then wife and two children start a new life in Australia.

Mr Courtney Snr, a long-term Fine Gael member, said he had not contacted any TDs to plead for his son’s release.

He said his family was very religious and his son asked for an annual Mass to be said for Ms O’Toole: “My life is turned upside down by this whole thing, we have to just try and bear it out as best we can. He is our son and I know he done wrong and we have to stick by him anyway.”

Fr Fergal McDonagh, the former chaplin of Arbour Hill prison where Courtney was held before his recent move to Loughan House open prison in Co Cavan, contacted the show to support calls for the murderer’s release.

He said “his dad is right,” Sean is “genuinely remorseful”.

The priest said that shortly after taking up his position at the prison, Courtney asked him to “remember Patricia O’Toole at Mass tomorrow morning”.

He added: “He was the only prisoner I ever met who once a year on the Sunday nearest the anniversary asked for the person whose life they took to be prayed for.”

The calls for a release date greatly upset Ms O’Toole’s brother-in-law, Peter Scannell, and a friend, identified as Patricia.

Mr Scannell described when he had to identify Ms O’Toole’s body, “and her poor face in bits, there was nowhere where I could kiss her goodbye that wasn’t bashed and bruised. I live with that”.

He added: “I’m afraid the trauma that our family has gone through and goes through, we would not be happy if that man ever walked the streets again, and I think it is an extremely poor reflection that he would sire another child living under the conditions he was living at the time.

“I hope the child grows and has a healthy and prosperous life but I think it was the most irresponsible behaviour to do such a thing.”

Patricia said of her murdered friend: “She never had a chance to be a mother.”

She said: “I have no doubt Patricia would have been a fabulous mother because that was the type of person she was.”


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