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Corkman jailed for the murder of mother-of-three has won an appeal against his conviction

Darren Murphy faces a possible retrial.

Updated 2.05pm

A CORKMAN JAILED for life last year for the murder of a mother-of-three in her home, which he then set on fire, has won an appeal against conviction now faces a possible retrial.

Darren Murphy, 38, of Dan Desmond Villas, Passage West, Co Cork had pleaded not guilty to murdering Olivia Dunlea at Pembroke Crescent in Passage West on 17 February 2013 but admitted killing her.

Murphy had also admitted setting fire to Ms Dunlea’s home because, he claimed, he “didn’t want the kids to find her” and pleaded guilty to a second charge of arson.

He was found guilty of her murder by a Central Criminal Court jury following four hours of deliberations and was given the mandatory life sentence by Mr Justice Paul Carney on 29 May 2014.

Murphy successfully appealed his conviction on the question of the trial judge’s definition of provocation to the jury.

The Court of Appeal allowed his appeal today and remanded him in custody to appear before the Central Criminal Court at its next list to fix dates.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Paul Carroll BL, told the court that the DPP would be seeking a retrial.

Provocation argument

In Murphy’s account, Ms Dunlea had allegedly provoked him by making “suggestions”, according to the judgment, that a man with whom she had previously been intimate was calling to her house on the night in question.

Giving judgement Mr Justice Alan Mahon said the trial judge’s quoted definition of provocation accurately represented the legal principles to apply to the defence but it could not “supplant the desirability of a comprehensive explanation” in the context of the facts of the case.

Mr Justice Mahon said the trial judge’s unwillingness to go further than he did was “perhaps understandable” but directing a jury was an exercise in instruction and communication and was “part of the skill demanded of a judge”.

A trial judge should be in a position “to explain complex legal principles to a jury” while maintaining impartiality. It was not enough that complex legal principles were placed before a jury in the abstract, “albeit accurately”, Mr Justice Mahon stated.

There also needed to be effective instruction on how those principles might apply in the case at trial, he said.

This would not be “entering the arena” as was the trial judge’s concern. Rather it would provide important assistance to a jury and was something a judge ought to be well capable of undertaking.

Concerns

The court was satisfied that the trial judge’s genuinely held concern was unfounded and that being “perhaps over scrupulous” on this issue, he unwillingly fell into error elsewhere, namely, how the principles he was expounding in the abstract might find practical application in the trial.

Even if the jury had understood the legal principles applicable to the defence of provocation, the trial judge clearly misdirected the jury at this point, the judgment stated.

The court was “troubled” by the portion of his direction which dealt with the verdicts that might be recorded.

To have implied, as he did, that murder was the only possible verdict in the event of the jury being satisfied that Murphy had an intention to kill or cause serious injury was incorrect.

Counsel for Murphy, Michael Delaney SC, had requested the judge to recall the jury on the basis that they may have been confused but the judge refused to do so.

The Court of Appeal considered his refusal to be an error, Mr Justice Mahon said.

The court allowed the appeal and remanded Murphy in custody to appear before the Central Criminal Court at its next list to fix dates.

Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan, who sat with Mr Justice Mahon, and Mr Justice John Edwards, said it was an appropriate case for a retrial.

Background facts

At the time of her death, Ms Dunlea and Murphy had been in a relationship for four of five months. She had been separated from her husband for some time and lived with her children, the judgment stated.

On the night of 16 February, 2013, Ms Dunlea and Murphy had been out socialising with friends when they left to get a taxi to her home at about midnight.

The taxi driver noted that there was “some tension” between the pair as he drove them home and described the atmosphere as “a little frosty”.

He noticed Ms Dunlea was in good spirits and that on one occasion she turned to Murphy and placed her hand on his knee as if to re-assure him.

In the course of the journey she made reference to a taxi driver she had been intimate with previously and “it was apparently the case that the deceased had earlier contacted” this man and requested him to drive them home.

On arrival, Ms Dunlea went up to her bedroom, undressed and lay on the bed.

She made reference to the man she had been intimate with previously and suggested that she was expecting him to call.

This, on Murphy’s account, enraged him, the judgment stated.

He inflicted severe stab wounds to Ms Dunlea’s neck and then proceeded to set fire to the house in the belief that she was dead.

At the scene of the fire Murphy “feigned innocence” and indicated to people that he hoped she wasn’t inside.

Following his arrest, he acknowledged his role in the killing and claimed that he had been provoked.

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Ruaidhrí Giblin

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