Playwright jailed for 16 years for rape

A playwright and arts administrator has been jailed for 16 years by Mr Justice Henry Abbott for raping a woman following a drugs and alcohol party in his Drogheda flat.

A playwright and arts administrator has been jailed for 16 years by Mr Justice Henry Abbott for raping a woman following a drugs and alcohol party in his Drogheda flat.

Francis Condra (aged 46), of Upper Magdelene Street, Drogheda, a former member of the Irish Army and a father of a teenage daughter, was found guilty in February by a jury at the Central Criminal Court of raping and falsely imprisoning the woman on November 8, 2003.

The victim told the jury that she met Condra in a local pub where she had gone to try and organise "a lunar event" and had accepted his invitation with some others to go back to his flat where she said he produced "a tin of weed" and told them all "to help themselves".

"Everyone there was smoking cannabis," she said and exercised her legal right on day-three of the trial not to tell the jury if she brought cannabis resin to the party. She said she smoked some ‘joints’ with the others and they drank Condra’s "medieval mead" which she described as "horrible".

Condra originally pleaded not guilty to four charges of rape, false imprisonment, aggravated sexual assault, and assault causing harm to her but changed his plea on day-six of his 11-day trial to guilty of aggravated sexual assault and assault causing her harm.

The jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict on the false imprisonment count following three hours deliberation and by an 11-1 majority on the rape charge after almost six hours deliberation.

Mr Justice Abbott, who also certified Condra as a registered sex offender, said the rape charge set the tone for sentencing in this case as there were a series of rapes at the upper end of the scale with "a lot of savage violence and continuous threats of death" involved.

He said that Condra therefore deserved "a sentence just short of the maximum" and imposed 16 years for rape, with eight years for aggravated sexual assault, and three years each for assault causing harm and false imprisonment, all to run concurrent.

Mr Justice Abbott said Condra had many chances to have insight into his behaviour from his own rehabilitation and previous brushes with the law and the court couldn’t accept that he mightn’t offend again.

Detective Garda Seamus Nolan told prosecuting counsel, Mr Tom O’Connell SC (with Mr Garnet Orange BL), that in 22 years in An Garda Siochana he had never come across a sexual assault of such barbarity.

He said that after his service in the Irish Army, Condra developed a drink and drugs addiction problem during which he "fell into bad company".

He burgled the home of a 86-year-old Dundalk woman, Mrs Margaret McDonnell, in November 1996. He also participated in an armed robbery of the Readypenny Inn pub four months later during which Mrs Moira Sweeney was kidnapped while the robbery took place.

Det Gda Nolan said Condra was jailed 1998 at Dundalk Circuit Criminal Court for six years for the robbery and three years each concurrently for the false imprisonment and the burglary.

He was a model prisoner and while in Mountjoy Jail wrote and produced a play which was acclaimed. The balance of his sentence was suspended in 2000 and he moved back to Drogheda where he became involved with the Droichead Arts Centre.

Det Gda Nolan agreed with Mr O’Connell, in a review of the evidence given at the trial, that the victim told the jury her ordeal began when she was preparing to leave Condra’s flat to go home at about 2am.

She said she was bending over to get her bag when Condra grabbed her and dragged her by the hair into his bedroom, thumped her, threw her on the bed and said he was going to rape her.

He then started pulling off her clothes and she described how Condra then continually raped her, punched her on the face and in the vagina, called her a "whore" and a "bitch", and told her she wasn't getting out until he "came". She was screaming and continuously begging him to stop.

Condra was kneeling over her with his knees on her arms when he raped her and she also spent a lot of the time curled up in "a foetal-type position" on the bed.

She tried to talk to him several times to get him to stop but his reply would be to hit her again and call her names. He punched her again at one time when his penis came out of her.

She told the jury she tried to call the gardaí on her mobile phone while Condra was out of the bedroom but he returned and grabbed the phone from her when she told him she was trying to call a taxi.

He told her she would "pay for that", said he would kill her and went to the kitchen where he got a long-bladed knife which he held to her throat. He then cut her vagina with it and she also cut her hand trying to push the knife away.

"Blood was flying everywhere," she said. Every time she asked him to stop, he would hit her again and she was screaming throughout the ordeal she claimed continued until about 7am.

Gda Nigel McInaw told the jury the woman appeared to have injuries and bruising consistent with an assault when she arrived at the station after 7.30am and didn’t seem to realise the extent of her injuries.

He called an ambulance to bring her to the Lourdes Hospital from where she was transferred to the Rotunda Rape Treatment Centre.

Gda McInaw said a garda party went to Condra’s address with a search warrant and as there was nobody there to admit them, they made a forced entry. Items recovered included a bloodstained knife and the walls, the duvet, sheet and mattress were all bloodstained.

Det Gda Nolan agreed with Mr O’Connell that Condra "went missing" after the victim left his flat and was located by gardaí some days later in Navan.

Mr Michael Burlington, a forensic scientist, said that the DNA from the blood found on a heavily stained sheet matched the woman’s DNA profile.

The jury also heard medical evidence that the victim had a 4cm cut on her vagina among other injuries.

Defence counsel, Mr Anthony Sammon SC (with Mr Giollaiosa O Lideadha BL), said Condra fully accepted the jury’s verdict and regretted what he done.

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