Darren Murphy, of Dan Desmond Village, Passage West, Co Cork, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Olivia Dunlea, aged 36, at Pembroke Crescent, Passage West, on February 17, 2013.
Asked how he was going to plead to the charge, Mr Murphy said “not guilty, guilty of manslaughter“. Mr Murphy pleaded guilty to a second charge, that of arson on the deceased woman’s home.
In the Central Criminal Court yesterday, Thomas Creed, prosecuting, told the jury in his opening statement that the body of Ms Dunlea was found in an upstairs bedroom following a fire in her house.
She was divorced and had three children aged between 9 and 12, he said.
Mr Murphy admitted he “snapped” and grabbed a nearby knife. He lit a quilt beside the bed and a roll of tissue paper on top of the kitchen table downstairs before leaving the house, Mr Creed said.
He told the jury: “Mr Murphy has pleaded guilty to the killing of her and you will have to decide whether that killing was murder.”
For about three months previously, Ms Dunlea and Mr Murphy had been an item, Mr Creed said. At weekends, Mr Murphy would stay over when the children would have been with Ms Dunlea’s sister or mother, counsel said.
On Saturday, February 16, they went to the Rochestown Inn and according to three people they met there, they were both in good spirits when they left the pub.
Around midnight, they were driven by taxi to Pembroke Crescent where Ms Dunlea resided, counsel said, adding that the driver was of the view that they were both drunk but not falling around the place and he didn’t note anything unusual about the journey or when they left the car.
At about 1am, a neighbour of Ms Dunlea noticed a fire in her home and rang the fire brigade.
Another neighbour rang Mr Murphy, who said he was at home, having left Ms Dunlea while she was looking for keys at her door, the jury heard. His reaction to hearing that Ms Dunlea’s house was on fire was, “oh Jesus, oh Jesus”, and he was shocked, counsel said.
Asked where Ms Dunlea was, Mr Murphy said he left her at the door, that she was looking for her keys, and that he drove home in his own car, Mr Creed said. He told witnesses on the scene they were having a fight about two gentlemen known as Fás and Frick.
One witness was aware that two or three years previously, Ms Dunlea had been in a relationship with the man known as Frick, Mr Creed said.
Mr Murphy drove to her house, left his car in the middle of the road with the lights on, and ran to the front door, where he was held back by firemen, the court heard. He was trying to ring her phone and was crying.
A fireman was inside the house checking for hotspots when he found the outline of a body in an upstairs bedroom, counsel said. There was a smaller fire on the kitchen table which appeared to be a separate blaze entirely and gardaí preserved the area as a crime scene.
Mr Murphy made a voluntary statement to gardaí and handed two sets of clothes to them which he claimed to have been wearing on the night in question, counsel said.
However, following an examination of CCTV footage taken from the Rochestown Inn, gardaí realised the clothes Mr Murphy handed over were not what he was wearing on the night in question, counsel said.
Gardaí then went to Mr Murphy’s home and when he was confronted over the discrepancies, he admitted he made a mistake. Mr Creed said the accused began “sobbing” and stated ‘I just snapped.’
At 10.30pm on February 17, 2013, Mr Murphy was arrested on suspicion of murder. He was cautioned and detained in Togher Garda Station for interview.
Counsel told the jury there is no question the body found in the house was that of Ms Dunlea. He said Dr Marie Cassidy, the State pathologist, “will tell you that despite the extent of fire trauma there were six stab wounds on Ms Dunlea’s body”.
Ms Dunlea was alive when the fire started as she had been inhaling toxic fumes and the body position of the deceased suggested she made no attempt to escape the fire, counsel said.
Dr Cassidy postulated, counsel said, that Ms Dunlea may have been incapacitated when the fire started, and the wounds could have caused spinal shock, a form of instant paralysis.
The trial continues.