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Woman tried to drug her three children a day before suffocating them, murder trial hears

The first day of the trial took place today.

DEIRDRE MORLEY ATTEMPTED to drug her three children a day before she suffocated them at their family home, a murder trial jury has heard.

In what the State described as “a desperately sad case”, the jury heard that Morley used tape and plastic bags to suffocate the children at their home in Dublin last year.

The 44-year-old nurse, of Parson’s Court, Newcastle, Co Dublin, has gone on trial at the Central Criminal Court today, having pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the murder of her sons Conor McGinley (9) and Darragh McGinley (7) and her daughter Carla McGinley (3).

The children’s bodies were discovered at the family home just before 8pm on 24 January, 2020. 

On the first day of the trial, the Central Criminal Court was told that the husband of the accused, Andrew McGinley, discovered the bodies of his three children in the house, two of them upstairs in his bedroom and one downstairs.

Two notes written by the accused had been left in the house, one at the bottom of the stairs, to urge whoever came through the door of the family home not to go into the front room or upstairs and to phone emergency services instead.

During the opening of the trial, a prosecuting barrister said the accused was suffering from a mental disorder when she caused the deaths of her three children and believed their best interests would be served by taking their lives.

In her opening address, prosecuting counsel Anne-Marie Lawlor said it was for the prosecution to prove that the accused did not just kill her three children but had the capacity to intend to do so.

Counsel said that the jury’s primary concern would be the accused’s mental state on 24 January, when the deaths occurred, and there was no issue in the case as to what happened to the children and how they died.

“The vast bulk of the evidence will come from Ms Morley’s mouth, when she was interviewed on three occasions by gardaí and went into detail as to what occurred,” she said.

Addressing the jury, counsel said that a very significant part of the evidence came from the consultant psychiatrists concerning the mental health of the accused and how the events occurred.

Children well-cared for

The court heard that the accused was married to Andrew McGinley and that they had three children.

Counsel for the prosecution said there was no question that the children were well-cared for and loved by their parents, adding that there was also no issue regarding the parenting of the children.

Detailing the evidence that would be heard, counsel said that the couple had a good marriage but that it had been challenged in the year prior to the children’s deaths.

The mental health of the accused had deteriorated very significantly and she had suffered a breakdown in July 2019, which resulted in her attaining psychiatric care at St Patrick’s Hospital in Dublin.

Lawlor said the evidence will be that the accused was dealing with mental health professionals until January 2020. Her family and extended family were very involved in her care.

“In the days before the children’s deaths, there was a belief that her mental health had improved and psychiatrists will assist you in that was not the case,” counsel said.

Travelled for work

The court heard that on the evening before the killings, McGinley travelled to Cork for work as he understood that there was no difficulty in the family home at the time.

Counsel said the accused, who was described as very qualified in her field of nursing, attempted to take the lives of her children that evening – 23 January – by administering medicine to them in their food.

The prosecution barrister went on to tell the court that the jury would hear considerable detail from Morley’s interviews with gardaí as to how she had killed her children on the following evening, which she described as distressing.

“Nobody is saying that the physical acts which took the lives of the children did not occur,” she said.

Lawlor also said there would be evidence from consultant psychiatrists Dr Mary Davoren and Dr Brenda Wright, who prepared reports on behalf of the prosecution and defence and concluded that the accused was suffering from a mental disorder.

“They give different details in regards to that,” she said.

Davoren will give evidence that the accused suffered from recurrent depressive disorder and Wright will say that she had bipolar affective disorder, counsel added.

“You will hear varying accounts as to whether Ms Morley knew what she did was wrong,” she remarked.

Lawlor said the evidence from both psychiatrists would be that the accused could not imagine that her children would ever live healthy lives and believed their best interests were served by taking their lives.

“She couldn’t generate an alternative other than taking the lives of her children and they had to go together,” she said.

In summary, the lawyer said that the psychiatrists would offer the jury the benefit of their expertise and understanding as to what the mental state and status of the accused was at the time of her children’s deaths.

“This is a desperately sad case especially for the Morley and McGinley families,” she concluded.

Stress-related issues

Giving evidence today, Detective Sergeant Dara Kenny from Clondalkin garda station told counsel for the prosecution that the accused and her husband had been married to each other since 2008.

The court heard that the couple’s two older sons attended primary school and their daughter Carla went to creche.

Counsel said the children were loved and cared for by their parents and that no one suggested anything to the contrary.

The court also heard that Andrew McGinley worked at a workplace services company and that his wife was a clinical nurse, specialising in renal care.

It was further noted that the accused had not been working in Our Lady’s Hospital in Crumlin since April 2018 due to stress-related issues and she had mental health concerns for some time.

“She was signed off work and could not return until December 2019 but that was held off,” counsel said.

The court was told that the accused was an inpatient in St Patrick’s Hospital for some time in 2019, but that this worsened her mental health.

However, there was an understanding and belief that her mental health improved significantly in December 2019.

McGinley agreed that matters concerning the care of the children “weighed more heavily” on Morley than they did on her husband.

He also explained that as the accused was so medically qualified, she took control of her medication and that he was not “au fait” with the medication she had received in St Patrick’s.

Google searches

On 23 January 2020, McGinley had a work obligation which required him to travel to Cork, and he left with the intention of returning to his family the following day.

Counsel told the court that there was no apprehension or concern on his part leaving his wife solely responsible for the children’s care.

Garda Sergeant Kenny said that it emerged during the course of the investigation that the accused carried out Google searches for a “noose”, “how to make a noose” and the N7 flyover between Newcastle and Rathcoole on 22 January.

She also purchased a rope from a hardware shop the next day, he said.

The garda also said that the accused later told investigators that she had put morphine into her sons’ cereal on the night of 23 January, but that they spat it out when they tasted the food.

The accused also said she put another painkiller into her daughter’s drink. However, she later said that she abandoned any further actions to harm her children that evening.

The garda sergeant also told the court that the accused told her daughter’s childcare provider that Carla would not attend creche on 23 January, which was not unusual as Friday was a short day.

Her son Darragh had been sick earlier in the week and he ended up staying home from school on the Friday, but Conor had gone to school.

Children killed

The garda also described how the accused told investigators how she had killed her children using items found in her home.

The court heard that the accused suffocated her son Darragh first, before killing her daughter.

“She believed and understood that she had to take their lives as her parenting had damaged them so they could not lead healthy lives,” he said.

The accused then collected her son Conor early from school at 1.50pm, recording “family reasons” for taking him home in the school book. Another parent at the school said the accused had a “disturbed look” about her at the time.

Morley then suffocated her son in a downstairs room after they arrived home.

The court then heard that at 1.58pm that afternoon, Andrew McGinley told his wife that he intended to go to a wake that night. The detective said there was no cause for concern in her demeanour at the time on the call to her husband.

The garda told counsel for the prosecution that the accused had made “crystal clear” to gardaí that she had wanted to take her own life and had expressed a desire that her family would “go together”.

Crashed car

Morley then left her home at 4.10pm in her car and took a variety of medication. A bottle of wine and some of the medication were later found in the car.

At 5.10pm, the accused had another phone call with her husband, when he told her that he would be home around 7pm that night.

Around 25 minutes later, she crashed her car and was given a lift home by a nurse, who felt her behaviour was not right.

At 6.22pm, after arriving home again, Morley left her house again on foot in the direction of the N7 flyover.

She was found by a taxi driver who brought her home but she became unconscious in the taxi on the way back to the estate.

McGinley arrived home at 7.20pm to find his wife being cared for by paramedics, before ringing the childminder to enquire where his children were and being told that she did not have them.

He then went into his home with ambulance personnel, where he discovered his son Conor dead downstairs. Darragh and Carla were then found upstairs in the master bedroom by the paramedics.

Garda Sergeant Dara Kenny told the court that McGinley’s level of distress was “extraordinarily high” after learning that none of his children were alive.

The court also heard that Morley left a note on a bicycle at the bottom of the stairs reading: “Don’t go. Front room. Upstairs, Phone 911. I’m so sorry.”

Taken to hospital

The accused was subsequently taken by ambulance to Tallaght Hospital and placed in an induced coma until 27 January.

Detectives found the children’s DNA on items used to kill them inside the house.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margot Bolster attended at the scene and confirmed that the children had died by asphyxia from compressions of the chest area and airways.

The detective garda said the pathologist found traces of codeine in Carla’s stomach.

She also told the court that in her first interview with gardaí on 28 January, Morley told gardai that she felt like she had been “run over by a truck mentally and physically”.

Referring to the day of the killings, the accused said she felt “very low and overwhelmed” and that her thoughts had been getting darker in the previous week.

She told gardaí that she wanted “on and off for a long time not to be here” but felt she could not leave the children behind.

“I started to feel remorseful for the effects of my illness on the kids and thought I didn’t love them enough and maybe that had impacted them negatively,” she said.

She continued: “Life for them was going to be full of difficulty and pain and I wasn’t equipped to deal with it. I thought they were more damaged by me.”

The accused also told gardaí that she had not given her husband any indication that she had felt unwell before he left for Cork.

She said she had told her son Darragh to take a break from his screen time on the Friday morning and he had put up a bit of a fight.

“Around 12pm I just had to end our suffering,” she said.

Changed mind

The accused later told gardaí that she had planned to get out of her car when she sedated herself and jump off a bridge at the N7.

When asked where the idea to suffocate the children had come from, she said: “I didn’t think there was another way.”

She told gardaí that she had crushed up morphine and put it into the boys cereal as she thought they might not suffer as much if it happened in their sleep.

When her sons told her that the cereal tasted disgusting, she told them that the milk must have gone off and gave them another portion.

She agreed with gardaí that she had changed her mind about killing her children on 23 January.

Referring to Darragh, she said that he had got a lot of screen time over the last few years and she felt he had become mean and that she had “to save him from himself”.

“I felt I had damaged him and damaged them all. I couldn’t parent them and couldn’t be resilient,” she said.

The trial continues tomorrow before Mr Justice Paul Coffey and a jury of ten men and two women.

If you need to talk, support is available:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 1800 247 247 or email (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

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