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Jury deliberations adjourned to tomorrow in trial of man accused of Ashling Murphy murder

Jozef Puska, aged 33, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Ashling Murphy on 12 January 2022.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 8th 2023, 6:34 PM

THE JURY IN the trial of Jozef Puska, who denies murdering 23-year-old schoolteacher Ashling Murphy in January 2022, briefly commenced its deliberations this afternoon.

The nine men and three women spent 25 minutes deliberating this afternoon before they were sent home at 4pm to return tomorrow.

Earlier today, Mr Justice Tony Hunt completed his charge, having told the jury that their verdict must be unanimous. He urged all 12 to participate in the discussion and to look at the evidence coldly and clinically and to come to their verdict based only on the evidence they have heard.

He told them that if they are satisfied that there is no reasonable view of the case consistent with Mr Puska’s innocence then they must convict “in a clear-eyed fashion”. If the prosecution has not brought them beyond suspicion or probabilities, then they must acquit “in an equally unemotional, clear-eyed way”.  

He added: “If you acquit, it doesn’t mean you think he [Mr Puska] is a great guy or that there isn’t a heavy aroma of suspicion. It simply means you are not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt and his presumption of innocence remains. If it has been removed and you are satisfied of that beyond a reasonable doubt, then so be it.”

Having heard the charge, the jury requested a transcript of Mr Puska’s testimony to the court and a transcript of the evidence of witness Jenna Stack, who was running along the canal and came across Mr Puska and Ms Murphy in the undergrowth by the side of the towpath.

The jury will also receive a transcript of the evidence of State Pathologist Dr SallyAnne Collis and witness Aoife Marron who was running with Ms Stack.

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

The prosecution case is that Mr Puska murdered Ashling Murphy by stabbing her repeatedly in the neck.

Puska’s defence

Mr Puska took the stand in his defence and told the jury that he was cycling along the canal when he was attacked and stabbed by a man he did not know who was wearing a Covid mask.

He said he witnessed the same man stabbing Ashling and that after the man ran away, he tried to assist Ms Murphy by pulling her scarf up around the wounds to her neck. He said he then went into a neighbouring field where he fell unconscious for some hours before returning home. 

At one point in delivering his charge, Mr Justice Hunt reiterated that there was “no connection” between Ms Murphy and Mr Puska.

He said there had been reference in the case to a rumour regarding a connection and lawyers in the case wished to “alleviate any distress that may have been caused by any such suggestion”.  

Addressing the evidence, the judge said issues had been raised by the defence relating to the reliability of an alleged confession made by Mr Puska on 14 January, two days after Ms Murphy’s death when Mr Puska was in St James’s Hospital in Dublin.

The jury has heard that when asked about Ms Murphy’s death, Mr Puska said, “I did it, I murdered, I am the murderer.”

The judge said it does not seem that any issue has been taken with the words spoken and recorded by gardai but an issue has been raised about whether those words were true, accurate and reliable.

The judge reminded the jury of the evidence of an expert called by the defence who raised concerns that Mr Puska may have been confused or suffering from “subtle delirium” due to the combined effects of surgery, pain relief medication, the unfamiliar environment of the hospital, and the language barrier.

Mr Justice Hunt said gardaí had been criticised for how they approached Mr Puska in hospital and for allegedly “side-stepping” medical professionals before interviewing him.

He said the defence had also criticised detectives for not recording the interview and alleged confession on a mobile phone. He told the jurors, “You have to analyse those criticisms. You decide what is appropriate and inappropriate on the basis of the evidence.”

He asked the jury to assess the situation the gardaí encountered at the time and told the jury to apply their common sense and their experience of life. If they have reasonable doubts about the reliability of the alleged confession, they should set it aside, he said.

If the prosecution has satisfied the jury that the alleged confessions “were made and were true and accurate and reliable, and not adduced by confusion or subtle delirium or drugs” then they are entitled to act on that as they see fit. 

DNA evidence

Mr Justice Hunt reminded the jury that DNA matching Mr Puska was found under Ms Murphy’s fingernails. By any view of the case, the judge said Mr Puska was in contact with the deceased and it is for the jury to decide the significance of the DNA evidence.

Mr Justice Hunt said the prosecution is also asking them to draw an adverse inference from Mr Puska’s failure or refusal to mention things in his garda interviews in January last year. He said that gardaí questioned Mr Puska under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1984 which allow a jury to draw adverse inferences where a person fails or refuses to account for certain things.

Mr Justice Hunt said the right to silence applies to everyone and is an important right with a constitutional dimension to it. Constitutional rights, however, “do not trump all others”, he said, and there are occasions when the legislature can modify that right. The 1984 Act, he said, “encroaches on the right to silence” and so it must be approached carefully.

He pointed out that Mr Puska was asked to account for the presence of his bicycle close to Ms Murphy’s body and for the presence of his DNA under her fingernails. He said Mr Puska’s response was to not give an explanation.

If the jury is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that his response was a failure or refusal to account for those matters, which called for an explanation at that time, then the jury is entitled to draw an adverse inference.

The adverse inference called for, he said, is that Mr Puska did not have an innocent explanation capable of standing up to scrutiny. He said to make that inference, the jury must be satisfied that it is the only reasonable inference that can be drawn.

He said such evidence is not capable of convicting a person on its own but can be used to corroborate other evidence in the case. Mr Puska also replied that he did not want to comment when he was asked to state any facts that he would later rely on in his defence.

Mr Justice Hunt asked the jury to consider whether they are satisfied that there was any fact that he relied on in his defence that Mr Puska did not mention at that time and which might have been reasonable to draw to the attention of the gardaí.

He said the prosecution was asking the jury to draw the adverse inference that there are things that should have been said at that time and “not 20 odd months later”. If there is a reasonably possible benign or innocent explanation for not advancing those matters, he said the jury should not draw any adverse inference.

Mr Justice Hunt said the prosecution also relies on lies Mr Puska told as evidence of his guilt. He said there were some “undoubted” lies that Mr Puska told to gardaí in January last year and which were accepted as lies by Mr Puska during his testimony.

If the jury finds that Mr Puska did lie, that does not automatically mean he is guilty, the judge said, as people lie for many reasons.

“If he had an innocent motivation for telling a lie, then you don’t treat the lie as supportive of the prosecution case,” he said. A lie can only support the prosecution case, he said, if the jury is satisfied that the only reasonably possible explanation for the lie is to cover up the guilt of the accused.

The judge asked the jury to stress-test all the evidence, including Mr Puska’s account. He asked them to consider Mr Puska’s statement that his motivation on the evening after Ms Murphy’s death was the safety of his family but “the only tangible thing he can say is” that when he got home that night he asked for the clothes he had been wearing to be burned.

“How that contributes to anybody’s safety is a matter for you,” the judge said. “If you find an innocent explanation for the burning of the clothes, act on it. It is what it is and that’s what you have to deal with.”

He also asked them to look at the CCTV of Mr Puska arriving at his parents’ home in Crumlin at about 1am the following morning to assess whether there is evidence of any “serious injury to his stomach”.

He said it is clear that Mr Puska had changed his clothes and between then and the following afternoon, when he was taken to St James’s, his beard had been shaved off. He said Mr Puska had said he shaved the beard off so he could see if he had any cuts under his beard but, Mr Justice Hunt said, “Do you actually need to shave off a beard to see if there are cuts underneath.”

He told the jury to “bear down into what is offered”, analyse it and consider it and if they find that Mr Puska’s account is reasonably possible, then it “doesn’t help the prosecution”.

He said they must stress-test each witnesses’ evidence, including Mr Puska’s. “You stress-test everything in the case by reference to the evidence that you have. It applies across the board, that’s all I’m saying here, you look at it very carefully indeed.”

Mr Justice Hunt said it is important that all 12 jurors participate in the discussions and each juror must decide the case for themselves. He told them to discuss it fully and listen to the views of others. “Do not be afraid to change your opinion if the discussion compels it but do not change your opinion because others say they are right and you are wrong.”

He told them not to change an honest belief “simply to reach a verdict” and he asked them to guard against unconscious bias and not to be influenced by “personal likes, dislikes, sympathy, prejudice, fear or public opinion”. 

The judge told the jury that if Mr Puska’s version of events is reasonably possible, then they must acquit because he has committed no crime and is “a victim of a crime and of circumstance”. He said they would have to “test for unhappy coincidence” and “how much coincidence you are expected to tolerate”. 

He said there is no doubt that Mr Puska “did not help himself by some of his behaviour in the aftermath” but the jury must look at the evidence “coldly, forensically, analytically and clinically”.

If it is reasonably possible that he is this misunderstood good Samaritan and no more, if he is a victim of circumstance, then you acquit. It is as simple as that.” 

If the jury is satisfied, having considered all the evidence, that what Mr Puska said “simply doesn’t stand up as being reasonably possible”, because the prosecution has “shot it down and removed all possibility of innocence”, then they must consider the charge of murder.

Murder, he said, is an unlawful killing where the accused intended to kill or cause serious injury.

The jury is entitled to presume that a person intends the natural and probable consequences of their actions.

He told them to look at the 11 stab wounds and further cut to Ms Murphy’s neck and consider whether the natural and probable consequences of inflicting those wounds would be death or serious harm.

He said that a manslaughter verdict in this case is an “academic possibility” and neither party is arguing for it.

Sending the jury out shortly after 3.30pm, he told them to take as long or as short as they see fit. “It’s up to you to sift through it and go through the process.”

The jury returns tomorrow.