Advertisement
Ashling Murphy PA
Trial

Ashling Murphy accused alleged to have followed a woman 'very slowly' 90 minutes before killing

The trial of Jozef Puska continued in Dublin today.

A WOMAN HAS described how murder accused Jozef Puska made her feel uncomfortable when he cycled behind her “very slowly” and fixed her with what she said “felt like an intimidating stare”, less than 90 minutes before Ashling Murphy was stabbed to death by the Grand Canal in Tullamore.

Annemarie Kelly was speaking at the trial of Jozef Puska, who denies murdering the 23-year-old schoolteacher, where she said that she contacted gardai both on the evening after hearing of Ashling Murphy’s death and the following day. 

Kelly told the court this was because, “There was a man following me as I was out on my walk and he was following me for quite a bit of time.”

Under cross-examination defence counsel Michael Bowman SC suggested that his client was “in close proximity to you but not following you.” She said “that’s what it seemed like.”

Bowman said his client recalls looking at Kelly but doesn’t remember staring at her and didn’t intend to stare at her.

Kelly replied: “That’s what I recall.”

In her direct evidence, Kelly said that she met the same man again on the canal and considered crossing a lock “to get away” from him but instead jogged on to a pedestrian bridge further along the canal.

‘Smiling and chatty’ woman

At the bridge she met several people including one friendly woman aged in her mid-20s who was wearing a “peachy hat”. The trial has previously heard that Ashling Murphy was wearing a pink bobble hat as she went for a run along the canal before being stabbed to death.

Kelly’s dog Joe ran up to the woman and she petted him for a while and asked what breed he was. Kelly added: “She appeared very friendly. She was smiling and chatty.”

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 January 12th, 2022.

Kelly told prosecution counsel Anne-Marie Lawlor SC that she began her walk through Tullamore that day at 2pm with her dog, Joe.

As she walked along Church Rd towards Dunnes Stores and by McDonald’s restaurant, she noticed a man cycling a grey bike “very slowly behind me and staring directly at me”.

She stepped in to allow the man to pass but he didn’t.

 

‘Intimidating stare’

“I felt very uncomfortable so before I got to Toymaster I stopped and looked at my phone to let him pass me,” she said. 

“He did pass me that time but as he passed it was in really, really slow motion. He was staring back at me for what felt like a few minutes but it was just a few seconds I’m sure.”

Kelly said the stare “felt like an intimidating stare”.

Kelly said she noted that the man was about five feet seven or eight inches tall, of slim build with a shaved head, black stubble, dark eyebrows, sallow skin and dark eyes.

“I really noticed his eyes,” she said. “They were very distinctive.” Her impression was that he was not local but “a foreign guy”.

After the man had passed on, Kelly walked towards the corner of Daingean Rd where there is a pedestrian access to the canal walkway.

She didn’t see the man at that point but as she let her dog off the lead near an embankment she noticed him standing to her left.

She said: “At this point he was standing, off his bicycle, looking around him, looking at me. I sort of made the quick decision, probably a foolish one, that he wouldn’t be able to bring the bike down the grassy bank of the canal.

“I was nervous of the man but I decided he wouldn’t be able to go down that side on the bike, it was too mucky to cycle the bike down there.”

She started walking fast and noticed the man was “behind me walking quite fast with the bike. He was a few metres behind me when I noticed at first.”

She arrived at a white van and saw a man who may have been a farmer.

Kelly said hello and walked on but after about 50 metres she stopped to tie her laces and noticed that the man with the bike “got ahead of me, he was slowly walking in front of me… He was maybe ten feet ahead of me at this point with the bike, walking very slowly.”

‘Awkward encounters’

She said she didn’t want any more “awkward encounters” so she “made the decision to put my head down and jog past him. I was conscious not to make eye contact or engage in any way.”

She arrived at Boland’s Lock at 2.20pm where she took a picture which she sent to a friend along with a voice mail asking if it was safe to cross there.

She said she wanted to cross because she “wanted to get away from the man” but she was nervous about her dog crossing the bridge and her friend didn’t immediately respond.

She jogged on and crossed over Digby Bridge, further along the canal and did not see the man again.

Kelly agreed with Bowman that when she passed the man at the white van she was “not sufficiently concerned to stop”. She said she wasn’t “at the time” but she was conscious the man was behind her.

Beata Borowska told Lawlor that she identified herself on CCTV footage from that day walking along Church Rd on her way to Tesco at about 1.40pm. She told Lawlor that she had “no awareness” of what was behind her.

Motorist

Roy Jennings told Lawlor that he was driving along the N52 that night after 8pm heading towards the Tullamore Retail Park when he saw a man by the side of the road at a roundabout close to where the road goes over the canal.

Jennings said he noticed the man because it was “pitch black, I almost felt like I could have easily hit him with my car”.

He remembered the man had a beard and was wearing dark clothing. Jennings continued on to the nearby Lidl and was driving back along the N52 in the opposite direction about ten or 15 minutes later when he said he saw the same man.

The man had crossed the road and was walking towards the Tullamore Retail Park so Mr Jennings could see him “face on”.

The man’s tracksuit bottoms “stood out” because they were black with a cream or white stripe down one side and “they looked roughed up, as if he was rolling in grass or muck”.

‘This could be the guy’

Jennings was aware of what had happened to Ashling Murphy earlier that day and, he said, “the notion came into my head, this could be the guy.” But he had heard that gardai had already arrested a suspect that evening.

Two days later he received a CCTV image of an alleged suspect on a bicycle and he said he noticed the “distinctive tracksuit bottoms with the white stripe”.

He added: “It just looked very similar to the person I saw that night. That’s when I contacted gardai.”

Niamh Arthur told Lawlor that she was a passenger in her boyfriend’s car as they drove along the same stretch of road that night and “got a fright” when she saw a man in dark clothing by the side of the road.

The man was acting suspiciously, she said, “keeping really tucked in at a weird angle and crouching towards the verge.”

She thought it was unusual to see someone walking on that dark road at night.

“We locked eyes,” she said. “He looked shocked, he looked lost.” She thought he had “medium-tan skin” was aged in his mid-30s and had “darkish” hair.

Paramedics also gave evidence of seeing Jozef Puska at an apartment on Armagh Road in Crumlin on January 14, two days after Ashling Murphy’s death. Conor Mackee said he met Jozef Puska in a bedroom in the apartment.

He was “hunched over a bedside locker” and appeared to be in pain. Paramedics lifted Jozef Puska onto a bed and noted three stab wounds “of some description” in his abdomen.

Mackee said the wounds were not fresh and were not bleeding. One of them had been dressed and the dressing had dried blood on it.

Rian Finch said one of her colleagues brought Jozef Puska to an ambulance. She noted that Jozef Puska had “light scratches” to his head but they did not require treatment.

The trial continues before Mr Justice Tony Hunt and a jury of nine men and three women.