Nun killer is jailed for life

A youth who sexually assaulted and strangled an elderly nun in the grounds of a convent in Co Monaghan has been jailed for life for murder.

A youth who sexually assaulted and strangled an elderly nun in the grounds of a convent in Co Monaghan has been jailed for life for murder.

Kealen Herron, (aged 21), of Derry, Lattin, Castleblayney, Co Monaghan today pleaded guilty to the murder of Sr Philomena Lyons (aged 69) in the grounds of the Sacred Heart Convent, Ballybay, Co Monaghan, on December 15, 2001.

In the Central Criminal Court, Mr Justice Carney sentenced Herron to the mandatory term of life imprisonment after hearing the background to the murder.

The nun’s sister and her religious order said in a statement afterwards that Sr Philomena would forgiven Kealen Herron for the "awful crime" he had committed. "We also forgive him," the statement added.

Sr Philomena Lyons, who was born Christina Lyons in Rahan, Mallow, Co Cork, was a well-known and much loved nun who taught for 35 years in the national school in Ballybay, the court heard.

Supt Tom Long told prosecution counsel Mr Eamonn Leahy SC that Sr Philomena left the convent in Ballybay shortly after 8am on the Saturday morning she died.

She was accompanied through the grounds by the head nun, Sr Aloysius, but because it was a cold morning, she encouraged the other nun to return to the convent and continued alone to get the bus to Dublin, where she was spend her Christmas break. At around 8.20am she met an employee of the convent and greeted her.

Her colleagues became concerned for her whereabouts when her suitcases were found unattended on the roadside, and by 4pm that evening, when she did not arrive in Dublin, the gardaí were alerted and a search began.

Her body was found in the grounds of the convent shortly after 5pm. The deputy state pathologist, Dr Marie Cassidy concluded that she had been strangled with her own scarf, which was still tightly tied around her neck.

Sr Philomena had bruising to her jaw and neck, suggesting her attacker had put his hands over her mouth as he attacked her.

Sightings of Kealon Herron buying soft drinks in a local shop first led gardaí to him. But discrepancies in a questionnaire he filled out made him a suspect, Supt Long said.

He said that simultaneously a fingermark developed on the nun’s spectacles showed strong similarity to a fingerprint gardaí had collected from Herron.

DNA samples taken from the jeans he had been wearing would have matched DNA found on the nun’s body, the Superintendent added.

He said that Kealen Herron was arrested and made a series of admissions in statements to gardaí. Although he first denied the sexual assault, he later said that he had strangled the nun first and then assaulted her.

But in his latter statements he admitted that he had sexually assaulted Sr Philomena and then strangled her because he was afraid she would betray his identity, Supt Long said.

Herron, who lived with his parents six miles from Ballybay, has no previous convictions and was viewed as a good and reliable employee, the court heard. He worked variously as a boner, in a plant hire company and on a construction site.

He was a pupil of the primary school in Lattin, where he had some learning difficulties and attended a remedial teacher, the court heard.

In a statement to the media afterwards, issued on behalf of Sr Philomena Lyon’s family and her religious order, the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Sr Brigid Browne said: "Philomena would have forgiven Kealen Herron for this awful crime, which he must now deal with."

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