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Jozef Puska told gardaí 'I am the murderer', Ashling Murphy trial hears

The trial of continues in Dublin.

LAST UPDATE | Oct 25th 2023, 5:56 PM

A GARDA HAS told the Ashling Murphy murder trial that the accused man Jozef Puska agreed that he committed the murder and also told the officer: “I feel guilty and I say I regret it”.

Detective Sergeant Brian Jennings said that Puska “reiterated” how sorry he was and said that he “didn’t do it intentionally.”

The witness said he visited St James’s Hospital in Dublin two days after Ashling was stabbed to death while she was exercising by the Grand Canal in Tullamore last year.

He said he was acting on information from Dublin gardaí who said Puska had suffered stab injuries to his stomach and had told detectives that he travelled from Tullamore to Dublin on the day of Ashling’s death.

Reading from notes that he took at the time, the detective quoted Puska saying: “I did it, I murdered, I am the murderer.”

Detective Garda Fergus Hogan also told the trial that he heard Puska say in broken English, “I tell her go, I won’t hurt you. When she pass I cut her neck. She panic, I panic and then it happened. Will I go for ten years?”

Hogan told prosecution counsel Anne-Marie Lawlor SC that at the time, he did not know how Ashling had been killed or what injuries she had suffered.

Hogan also recalled that the accused pointed at his own stomach and said, “I do this”.

The trial has previously heard that Puska told gardai that injuries to his stomach were inflicted when he was attacked by two strangers in Blanchardstown on 12 January, the same day that Ashling died.

Jozef Puska (33), with an address at Lynally Grove, Mucklagh, Co Offaly, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Ashling Murphy at Cappincur, Tullamore, Co Offaly on 12 January, 2022.

Det Sgt Jennings told Lawlor that he first visited Puska on the Bennet’s ward in Tullamore Hospital the day after the stabbing but was told he was either in theatre or recovering from an operation.

Jennings returned to the same ward on the 14th and spoke to Puska at about 3pm with the aid of an interpreter who was on the phone on loudspeaker. He said Puska told him that he was from Mucklagh, Co Offaly and had come to Dublin the previous Wednesday. He said he got a lift from a man named Tom and was planning to meet a woman.

Puska said he arrived in Dublin and took a taxi to Blanchardstown but didn’t know where he was to meet the woman. He said he showed the taxi driver the location on his phone but he no longer had that phone and thought it had either been stolen or he had dropped it.

He said his wife did not know he was going to Dublin for a “date”. When he arrived in Blanchardstown, he said he was attacked by two men he did not recognise, one of whom grabbed him, knocked him to the ground and held him while the other stabbed him in the stomach.

He said he didn’t remember much after that and may have lost consciousness for a time. He said he might have taken a taxi to his parents’ house in Crumlin from where an ambulance crew took him to St James’s that afternoon.

Puska explained scratches that were observed by gardaí on his head and hands, saying he had been lying and “dragging on the ground” as he tried to defend himself during the assault.

Det Sgt Jennings had viewed CCTV footage of a man cycling in Tullamore on the day of Ashling’s death, who had been identified as a suspect in the case. He asked Puska if he owned a bike and he said he did but it had been stolen two weeks previously from outside his home. He described it as a medium size and black at the back and green in the front.

Warrant

That evening Jennings became aware that his colleague Det Sgt Pamela Nugent had a warrant to search the hospital and seize Puska’s belongings and a blood sample.

For Puska’s “pride” nurses moved Puska from a public ward to a private room while gardaí executed the warrant and Jennings, again with the aid of an interpreter, explained to Puska what was on the warrant.

Jennings told Puska that they were investigating the murder of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore. Puska said he had read about it in the newspapers and asked if he was a suspect. Jennings told him he was a “person of interest”. He said Puska then paused:

“It was a notable pause, the interpreter came on and said he is making an official statement that he is admitting that he committed the murder.”

Det Sgt Jennings then wrote down, word for word, what the interpreter translated as Puska spoke. Reading from his notes, he said:

I did it, I murdered, I am the murderer.

Jennings cautioned Puska that he did not have to say anything but anything he did say would be written down and may be used in evidence. The interpreter translated the caution and Puska said he understood.

The detective asked if Puska was saying he committed the murder and Mr Puska replied: “Yes.”

Jennings said he stopped asking questions when Puska indicated that he wanted to speak to a solicitor. Through the interpreter, Puska continued talking, saying the reason he didn’t answer earlier and the reason he was “pleading guilty” was because:

I don’t want my family anything to happen to them, nothing bad to them. I feel guilty and I say I regret it.

Puska signed the detective’s written note of what he had said but the detective said he did not read over the note to Puska at that time.

He said Puska kept asking questions about his family and their safety. Jennings explained that gardaí would not harm his family and the Murphy’s are “a good family” who would not harm him or his family.

Puska asked if his name would be published in the papers and “reiterated how sorry he is, he regretted it and didn’t do it intentionally”.

The detective said Puska was fully awake at the time and showed remorse. He was upset and crying, the detective said.

Det Sgt Jennings left the room to report back and to contact a solicitor and left the accused alone with Det Garda Fergus Hogan. Det Garda Hogan told Lawlor that the accused continued to speak unprompted when he entered the room so he wrote down what he heard on a notepad.

Reading from his notes, he recalled Puska saying: ”I am sorry, I am family, five kids, I see girl I never see before. I have knife I have use for chain.”

The detective reminded Puska that he did not have to say anything and that gardaí were contacting a solicitor for him, but the accused continued:  ”I tell her go, I won’t hurt you.”

He said Puska put his finger to his lips to indicate how he told Ashling to “be quiet” before saying: “When she pass I cut her neck. She panic, I panic and then it happened. Will I go for ten years?”

Sgt Jennings then told Garda Hogan to leave the room and Puska was left on his own until a nurse went in to see him.

Under cross-examination Jennings told Michael Bowman SC, for the defence, that before speaking to Puska he did not speak to the treating doctor, only to a nurse at the nurse’s station. The witness said it would be “unfair” to describe the exchange with Puska as an “interrogation”. He said it “never occurred to me” to take out his phone and record what Puska was saying.

Following an interjection by the trial judge, Justice Tony Hunt, Bowman said he is challenging the detective’s capacity to recollect what happened on that day. “Absent a recording, we are relying on his note and recollection,” the barrister said.

Det Garda Hogan told Bowman that when he visited St James’s to speak to Puska, he was not aware that the incident room in Tullamore regarded Puska as a suspect.

Hogan said he considered him to be a “person of interest” but not a suspect. He had no recollection of any instructions he was given by his superior officers and said he does not remember receiving an instruction to keep Puska “secure” at the hospital. 

He said Puska was “upset and crying” but didn’t look to be in any physical pain or discomfort.

He agreed that he was aware that the previous evening Puska’s treating doctors had refused gardaí permission to speak to him on three occasions. He  further agreed that “nobody went back to the doctor” prior to speaking to Puska on the 14th. He agreed that Puska had undergone an operation but said he did not seem confused.

Bowman put it to the witness that he is a “distinctive” person – a large man with a beard – but Puska did not appear to recognise him the second time he met him on the 14th.

He said he didn’t know if Puska could remember him but he remembered Puska asking if he had met him previously. Bowman asked if that struck him as unusual. “I didn’t give it any thought,” he said.

The trial is continuing before Justice Tony Hunt and a jury of nine men and three women.