Wexford man jailed for life for murder
A Wexford man who murdered his ex-girlfriend's partner when he should have been in jail serving a sentence for assault has been sentenced to life imprisonment.
James Connors, aged 29, of Rosemount, Drinagh, had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Jason Ryan, aged 27, at Hollyville Heights in Wexford on January 25, 2012. After 11 hours and 21 minutes of deliberations, the jury of seven men and five women at the Central Criminal Court found him guilty of murder by a ten to two majority.
The victim's mother Catherine Ryan wrote a victim impact statement that was read to the court by counsel for the prosecution Lisa Dempsey.
She said: 'How do you describe what it's like to have your healthy, glowing son die because of the whim of another person?'
Ms Ryan said she is lonely even when surrounded by her family and that she misses the sound of her son and his laughter. She said she is trapped in her own groundhog day and that her family can never be as they were before Jason was killed.
'I miss the devilment and miss the way he called me "mother",' she said. 'There is a hole in my life and only Jason coming back will ever fill it. But that's never going to be. Death is a very final state.'
She said she is angry that Jason's life was cut short by the 'decision of another man' and her family's life turned upside down and inside out.
'I cannot begin to describe the anger that I feel over that decision and towards the man who made it. Anger is the overriding emotion in my life. I am angry because my son is gone forever.'
Ms Ryan offered some words to James Connors's own mother, saying: 'I empathise with Mrs Connors and I imagine it must be difficult for her too. But she will have her son and his future in her life. She will see him and hold him. She will hear him call her name. All I have from now to the end of my life are my memories and a plot of ground with a cold headstone.'
Before sentencing, Detective Garda Colm Dunne of Wexford Garda Station gave evidence that Mr Connors had numerous previous convictions.
The most serious was a conviction in March 2009 at Wexford Circuit Court where he was sentenced to five years in prison for assault causing harm. He was given Christmas leave for that offence in December 2011, but failed to return when his leave ended. When he murdered Jason Ryan in January 2012 Mr Connors was unlawfully absent from prison.
Sentencing Mr Connors, Justice Margaret Heneghan said that she was imposing the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. She backdated the sentence by two years and three months to take into account time already served in prison before Mr Connors was granted bail.
The verdict came after two weeks of evidence and more than 11 hours of deliberations by the jury.
During the trial, the jury was told that James Connors got up at 6 p.m. on January 24 and had dinner with his then girlfriend Mary Connors at her house in Wexford town. After dinner he went to a house nearby and started drinking spirits before going to visit his cousin Jim Connors in Hollyville Heights. Jim decided to go to his mother's house so James Connors had to leave. Instead of leaving the estate however, Connors rang the doorbell of his ex-girlfriend Samantha Hore who was at home with her then boyfriend Jason Ryan. It was shortly after midnight.
Mr Ryan and Mr Connors had come to blows just a few weeks earlier when they met in the estate. Their feud began when Mr Connors phoned Samantha Hore from prison only for Mr Ryan to pick up. They exchanged insults over the phone and had scuffled when they met.
Mr Connors told gardai in interviews following the killing that he called to the apartment on the night to end the feud with Mr Ryan. He said he wanted to tell him that he was going out with Mary Connors, that he had moved on, and wanted to forget about what happened before.
Mr Ryan, who was on the first floor, shouted down to Mr Connors. Ms Hore told the trial that she heard him tell Connors to go away and called him a 'red bastard'. She said he then went back into the apartment, put on his running shoes, picked up a metal-studded baton that he had for protection and went outside. CCTV footage showed that it took 51 seconds for Mr Ryan to emerge. In that time Mr Connors had walked away from the door and up a ramp to an area not covered by CCTV. Mr Ryan can be seen walking up the ramp before breaking into a run.
Witnesses described seeing Mr Ryan banging the baton on a railing and a bin and shouting aggressively. One witness, Catriona Purdy, was woken by the noise and watched through a window. She saw him strike Mr Connors twice with the bat.
In the scuffle, Mr Connors stabbed Mr Ryan five times. The source of the weapon, a long, brown-handled kitchen knife, was disputed. Counsel for the Prosecution Gerard Clarke said Mr Connors brought the knife with him, but when questioned by gardai, Mr Connors said the knife was stuck in the waistband of Mr Ryan's trousers. He said that he pulled it out after being struck with the baton and used it in self defence.
The trial also heard that Mary Connors's DNA was on the knife, and prosecution counsel Gerard Clarke said this showed beyond reasonable doubt that the knife had come from her house. This, he said, showed that Mr Connors had brought the knife to the fight with the intention of luring Jason Ryan to an area not covered by CCTV so that he could kill him.
Defence counsel Michael Delaney told the jury that this was far from certain. He pointed out that Mr Connors's DNA was not found on the weapon and also questioned why the prosecution did not ask Mary Connors to identify the knife when she gave her evidence to the jury. She had been a cooperative and helpful witness, he said, and asked the jury to consider why the prosecution would not ask her to identify a knife that they claimed came from her house.
The prosecution had made a point of showing the same knife to Samantha Hore when she gave her evidence to the court, he said. Ms Hore had cried when the knife was produced and at first refused to look at it.
When she did, she told the jury it did not belong to her and did not come from her house.
Following the stabbing, Mr Connors went back to his cousin Jim's apartment and escaped through a window, jumping on to decking below. Once away from the scene, he was arrested by gardai in the early hours after travelling to different parts of the town.