Darren Murphy, aged 37, of Dan Desmond Villas, Passage West, Co Cork, had pleaded not guilty to murdering Olivia Dunlea, aged 36, at Pembroke Crescent, Passage West, on February 17, 2013, but had attempted to plead guilty to manslaughter.
Murphy, who admitted setting fire to Ms Dunlea’s home because, he claimed, he “didn’t want the kids to find her”, had pleaded guilty to a second charge of arson.
A jury in the Central Criminal Court took four and a half hours to find him guilty of murder yesterday by a majority of ten to one.
There were sobs from Ms Dunlea’s family as the verdict was read out while Mr Murphy, who held his right hand to his face throughout the trial, made no reaction.
The seven-day trial heard that, for about three months, Ms Dunlea, a mother of three, and Murphy had been “an item”. On the Saturday before her death, the pair were having a good time in the nearby Rochestown Inn, but when they arrived home, they had “a massive row”.
Murphy told gardaí he “just snapped” and, having stabbed her six times in the neck, set fire to the house.
State pathologist Marie Cassidy was of the view that Ms Dunlea was alive when the fire started as she had been inhaling toxic fumes and her body position suggested she made no attempt to escape the fire, the court heard.
In his closing speech to the jury, Thomas Creed, prosecuting, said Murphy could have called emergency services to try and save her.
But that is not what Murphy did, he said. “He set fire to the house and left her in a situation where she could have been saved,” he said.
Counsel said Murphy “watched from Church Hill above like Nero as the house burned with Olivia in it”.
In a victim impact statement read to the court, Ann Dunlea, Olivia’s mother, said justice was the family’s ultimate purpose.
“On February 17, 2013, my family’s life changed beyond repair.
“No parent should have to bury their child in these circumstances. It is not natural in the circle of life. Since the killing of our daughter, we have been living our own life sentence of anger and grief sickened by how depraved and disgusting a human being can be.
“Olivia was 36 years old, loved life and everything it had to offer. The sparkle in her eyes and radiant smile displayed this vibrancy, which was also reflected in her work as a play-school teacher. Olivia had so much kindness and love to share but this was stolen from her.”
Olivia’s three teenage children were her treasures who never left their mother’s side, Mrs Dunlea said.
“Words cannot express the pain I hold in my heart watching my grandchildren struggle without the presence of their mother’s love and touch.
“How do you console a child who wants mum to be at their birthday party and confirmation?
“How do you tell a child they have no home and all their possessions have been destroyed by a deliberate act of evil?”
Speaking outside the Criminal Courts of Justice, Ms Dunlea expressed her family’s delight with the result but said “it still won’t bring her back”.
She wished to thank the gardaí in Togher and Douglas and their liaison officer Michelle Barron, without whom they would have been “lost”.
Mr Justice Paul Carney imposed the mandatory life sentence on the accused backdating it to February 19, 2013, the date on which he had been taken into custody. The judge further remanded Murphy in custody until June 18 in respect of the arson charge.
Mr Justice Carney thanked the remaining jurors and exempted them from service for the rest of their lives.