Woman died from stabbing not smoke, says witness

The defence in the case of a man who denies murdering his girlfriend at her home called evidence from a pathologist who suggested the victim died as a result of a stab wound and that smoke inhalation was not a factor.

Darren Murphy, aged 41, of Dan Desmond Villas, Passage West, Co Cork, is on trial at the Central Criminal Court sitting at Angelsea St, Cork, on a charge of murdering Olivia Dunlea, aged 36, at her home at Pembroke Crescent, Pembroke Woods, Passage West, on February 17, 2013. He admits manslaughter.

Tim O’Leary, defending, called one witness yesterday as the prosecution closed its case, and that was retired pathologist for Northern Ireland, Jack Crane, who gave his evidence by video link.

“It is my view that one stab wound penetrating the spine [causing bleeding on the brain] was the cause of death,” Prof Crane testified yesterday.

Mr O’Leary reminded Prof Crane of the findings presented by the prosecution from State pathologist Marie Cassidy, who told the jury the previous day that Ms Dunlea was alive and had not died when the fire started.

Prof Cassidy outlined her findings and said: “She was alive when the fire started and had been inhaling toxic fire fumes.


“Either the knife wounds or the toxic fire fumes could have caused death.”


Prof Crane said he would have expected a number of other findings to have been present if the victim had been alive when the fire started. He said that in terms of any sooty material found in the deceased’s lungs such was only visible under a microscope. He said that was not enough to convince him the deceased had inhaled hot gases from fire before death.

“That is one of the reasons I believe the cause of death was the stab wound,” he said.

Another reason for that conclusion was that a smoker could have up to 20% carbon monoxide in their lungs post-mortem in the absence of any fire. 

He said the finding of 24% was not persuasive enough and there should have been a test for other materials found in toxic smoke such as cyanide and that there was no test done for this by Prof Cassidy.

He said even if cyanide was not tested for routinely this was an exceptional case where an investigation for it would have clarified the situation.

He also attached more importance to the presence of alcohol in the deceased’s blood. He described it as a significant degree of intoxication coupled with the prescription drug, Tramadol, which he categorised as a morphine-like drug.

Also, the pathologist said of Prof Cassidy: “She is speculating there might have been spinal shock. It is a nebulous concept. There is no pathological evidence to say that is the case one way or the other. I did not mention spinal shock because it is a nebulous concept that one cannot show or prove.”

It is anticipated the prosecution and defence counsel will address the jury today before they are addressed by Mr Justice Pat McCarthy who will then ask them to deliberate on their verdict.

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