Court copy by Eoin Reynolds
Jozef Puska has been sentenced to the mandatory term of life imprisonment for the murder of 23-year-old school teacher Ashling Murphy.
At a hearing this afternoon before the sentence was handed down, the court heard statements from Ms Murphy’s sister Amy, Mother Kathleen and Ms Murphy’s boyfriend Ryan Casey.
Ms Murphy’s father Ray and brother Cathal were also present in court.
Ryan Casey told the court that it doesn’t make sense to him that someone “so insignificant, the lowest of the low, a burden to society, can completely destroy so many lives by taking a person who is the complete opposite.”
Mr Casey described Ashling’s warmth, compassion, respect and detailed their plans for the future – to get married, build a home together and raise a family.
Mr Casey turned towards Puska to tell him: “I don’t care where you end up, nor what happens to you after today. You smirked, smiled and showed zero remorse during your trial which sums you up as the person you really are, the epitome of pure evil. But you will never ever harm or touch another woman ever again… when your day of reckoning comes, may you be in hell a whole half hour before god even knows you are dead.”
Amy told the hushed courtroom that their lives were “enormously enriched because of Ashling,” who she described as charismatic and compassionate with an infectious laugh.
“She never sought to be the centre of attention but she could strike up a conversation with anyone and make everyone feel they had a friend in her.”
Puska (33), with an address at Lynally Grove, Mucklagh, Co Offaly, had pleaded not guilty to murdering Ms Murphy at Cappincur, Tullamore, Co Offaly on January 12th, 2022.
A jury convicted him of the murder last week, finding that he stabbed Ms Murphy eleven times in the neck and slashed her once with the edge of a blade before leaving her to die in the thick thorns and brambles by the side of the canal towpath between Tullamore town and Digby Bridge, where a monument in her memory is now placed.
After the speeches were completed, Mr Justice Tony Hunt told Puska that there is only one sentence to hand down, which he said is “richly deserved”.
He lamented that he does not have the power to impose a minimum period to be served and said if he had the power, a whole life-term would have to be considered in this case.
He said that before Puska is considered for release the person making that decision would have to take into account that we still don’t know why Puska murdered Ashling.
Mr Justice Hunt concluded by saying, “very well, you may take him away,” before six prison officers led Puska to the cell area.
Puska was placed at the scene by the presence of his distinctive green and black bicycle a few feet from Ms Murphy’s body. He had been captured on CCTV cycling the same bicycle around Tullamore earlier that afternoon, following two women before heading towards the canal where he isolated Ashling Murphy, who was walking alone.
Puska’s DNA was found on the bike as was his fingerprint and his DNA was under Ms Murphy’s fingernails. The prosecution argued that the DNA under the nails showed that Ashling had scratched her attacker as she tried to save her own life.
When gardai spoke to Puska the day after the murder his face and hands were covered in scratches that were consistent with him crawling through the thorns and briars by the side of the towpath where he murdered Ms Murphy.
In his testimony to the trial, Puska claimed that he was cycling along the towpath when he was attacked and stabbed by a masked man. He claimed the same man then attacked and stabbed Ms Murphy before running away.
In what prosecution counsel Anne-Marie Lawlor SC described as a “foul and contemptible fabrication”, Puska claimed that he then tried to help Ashling by pulling her scarf up around the wound to her neck.
He said that he realised he couldn’t help her and crawled through the briars to an adjoining field where he fell unconscious for about four hours.
The jury rejected his version of events.
No motive has been offered for the killing and lawyers in the case and Ms Murphy’s family have stressed repeatedly that there was no connection between Puska and Ms Murphy, despite internet rumours of a connection.