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Ashling Murphy trial: Drugs had 'no influence' on Jozef Puska before alleged admissions

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

THE AMOUNT OF drugs administered by medical staff to Jozef Puska before he allegedly admitted to murdering Ashling Murphy would have had no impact on his behaviour or his ability to communicate, a professor of pharmacology has told the Central Criminal Court.

Professor Michael Ryan told the trial that he has “never heard of anyone confessing to murder or anything of that kind” after taking the kind of low therapeutic doses of the painkilling drug oxycodone administered to Puska at that time.

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.

Professor Ryan told Anne-Marie Lawlor SC, for the prosecution, that he is a professor of pharmacology and toxicology, and has worked in that area since 1969.

He studied the “extensive” medical files relating to when Puska was taken by ambulance to St James’s Hospital in Dublin on 13 January last year until he was discharged on 18 January.

Lawlor said the professor was asked whether the drugs administered to Puska during that time had any impact or bearing on his making alleged admissions to gardaí shortly after 6pm on 14 January.

The prosecution alleges that while in a hospital bed in St James’s Puska admitted to murdering Ashling Murphy by saying, “I did it, I murdered, I am the murderer” and by telling another garda that he “cut” Ashling Murphy.

Professor Ryan said it is his expert opinion that the drugs administered to Puska at that time would have had “no influence” on his behaviour.

Professor Ryan said that in coming to his conclusion he looked at all the relevant medical documentation and detailed the doses administered of each drug, the half-life of each drug and the possible side effects.

He noted that Puska had undergone an operation on 13 January to treat three puncture wounds to his abdomen, which finished at about 10.45pm. The surgery was carried out by keyhole incision, he said, and the injuries were described as minor or superficial.

By 6pm the following day, Professor Ryan said the anaesthetic and all other drugs administered before surgery would have been out of his system.

He was given 5mg of oxycodone – an opioid similar to morphine that is used for pain relief – on four occasions from 3.32am until 4.05pm on 14 January.

Professor Ryan said he looked at all the published papers relating to the use of oxycodone and its possible side effects. The dosages given to Puska, he said, were at “absolutely the lower end of the scale” where people at the “very high” end could receive up to 400mg per day.

Considering the rate at which oxycodone breaks down in the body, he said the maximum amount that Puska could have had in his system after 6pm that day was 8.25mg. The scientific literature, he said, shows that dosages of below 10mg have “no effects on mood or behaviour” and it is only at higher doses that some side-effects would begin to be seen, he said.

Drugs such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, which were also given to Puska, have no impact on the central nervous system, he said, and therefore wouldn’t affect behaviour.

The professor described the conditions in the hospital as a “highly controlled medical environment” in which Puska was “monitored very closely” by medical professionals including nurses and a physiotherapist. They noted throughout Puska’s time in hospital that he was “alert and orientated” and had “no impairment in sensory perception”.

Professor Ryan said there were no signs of dizziness and no mention of any problems or issues with Puska while he was taking oxycodone during that period. He said the dosage of oxycodone administered was “at the very low end of the therapeutic range” and there was “no evidence to support that his admission was related to the effects of oxycodone … or any drug”.

Professor Ryan said oxycodone would not have impacted on Puska’s memory function and he was noted by medical professionals to be “alert and awake”.

His oxygen levels were at 100% saturation, which the professor said indicated there had been no impact on the respiratory system, a key side-effect of oxycodone.

Cross-examination

Under cross-examination, Professor Ryan told Seoirse Ó Dúnlaing BL that he is not a consultant in intensive care or emergency care and he has no experience treating patients on wards.

He said he focused on the effects of the drugs administered and on the medical notes in writing his report but felt it was not his expertise or duty to interpret garda statements relating to Puska’s time in hospital.

Ó Dúnlaing said that gardaí reported that one of the machines monitoring Puska went into alarm at one point while gardaí were present but that was not recorded in the hospital notes. He asked if that gave Professor Ryan “pause to consider that not everything was recorded in the [medical] notes”.

Professor Ryan said the medical notes were “extensive” and “I didn’t feel it my responsibility or function to look at garda records”.

Professor Ryan said he could not remember reading the note of Detective Garda Fergus Hogan who said that Puska did not recognise him despite having spent considerable time with him earlier on the same afternoon.

Ó Dúnlaing asked if it struck Professor Ryan as “abnormal that he didn’t remember speaking to the garda”.

The professor said it didn’t as Puska was probably in a stressful situation following his operation. He said he is not an expert on what effects that might have but from his expertise, he could say that the oxycodone had “no possible effect” on Puska.

Under reexamination, Professor Ryan told Lawlor that it has never been recorded anywhere that a dosage of less than 10mg would impact a person’s ability to communicate.

He also agreed that he had “never heard of anyone confessing to murder or anything of that kind after taking 5mg doses”.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt told the jury to return tomorrow to hear evidence from the prosecution’s final two witnesses. He said there is one legal issue to be dealt with and “other legal business has to be tidied up”.

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

Comments are closed as legal proceedings are ongoing.