In this case life should mean life - Graham Dwyer sentencing

THE trial and conviction of Graham Dwyer for the sadistic, almost satanic, murder of Elaine O’Hara transfixed and shocked this society.

In this case life should mean life - Graham Dwyer sentencing

The depth of the depravity revealed, the relentless calculation and the self-centred and lethal delusion that drove Dwyer’s evil fantasies were chilling even in a world almost inured to casual, loveless sexual brutality.

Dwyer’s psychological, emotional and sexual exploitation, and torture of a vulnerable and intelligent young woman — he sent Ms O’Hara more than 2,600 text messages — showed a disregard for a fellow human being that is, even in an age too often indifferent to violence, unnerving, disturbing and plainly frightening. That it was carried out by a man who calmly led a double life as a husband, father, son, architect and a model plane enthusiast makes it even more so.

It also makes us all question how we perceive those around us. The unmasking of Dwyer the monster makes us all wonder about what might be the full truth about those in our orbit. By murdering Elaine O’Hara as he did, an appalling crime in itself, he made Ireland a more suspicious, less trusting place.

If the nine-week trial, and what an ordeal that must have been for all involved, shone a relentless light on the darkness alive in our world, yesterday’s sentencing hearing saw a minor but hugely significant victory for humanity and decency. Elaine O’Hara’s father Frank opened his family’s victim impact statement by acknowledging that “we know that we are not the only victims of this crime. We recognise that other families are suffering too and we feel for every other person affected” showed a generosity, an empathy otherwise tragically absent from this sorry, sordid affair. He and his family are to be congratulated on their humanity, a reassuring humanity many of us would struggle to find much less express in such very trying circumstances.

However, the closing word of his statement — parole — raised a prospect that seems hardly comprehensible. This is especially so as the court heard that Dwyer, who is just 42, indulged in graphic fantasies about the kidnap, rape and murder of women. The court also saw videos he made of sexual encounters with women that involved stabbing and simulated stabbing.

Dwyer was given the mandatory life sentence yesterday, but he is expected to appeal his conviction. If that appeal fails and Dwyer serves what is now recognised as the average time served by life-sentence prisoners he will be in jail until some time around 2035 — 20 years behind bars. At that point, should he reach it, the Minister for Justice, on advice from the Parole Board, will decide if he is to be released or not.

It would be inhumane to rule out the possibility of redemption, but Dwyer’s crime was so depraved and so evil, and he remained delusional about the prospect of being convicted long after it was rational to do so, that it suggests the kind of reform that would allow him to be safely released into society seems more than remote. In this instance, and on this evidence, life should mean life.

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