- 17 Nov 23
The trial for the murder of 23-year-old Ashling Murphy in January of last year concluded with a guilty verdict delivered to Jozef Puska, who has been handed a sentence of life in prison for the thoughtless crime. The victim’s family appeared in court to deliver heart-wrenching impact statements and shared loving words about their beloved sister, daughter and partner.
Ms. Murphy, a primary school teacher, was the victim of a random stabbing as she walked along the Grand Canal last year. She was found on the pathway and had been stabbed 11 times. Puska was placed at the crime scene by his distinctive green and black bicycle close to Ms. Murphy’s body, which the suspect had been caught riding on CCTV footage that same day.
Puska, of Lynally Grove in Mucklagh, Co. Offaly, is 33 years old and a father of five. He pleaded not guilty to the murder, despite initially confessing to gardaí that he had committed the monstrous crime.
As a result of the investigation, it was concluded that Puska did not know Ms. Murphy, had never met her, nor had the schoolteacher taught any of his children.
Justice Tony Hunt handed down the sentence, which the judge described as “wholly deserved.” He added that although he does not have the power to deliver a minimum period to be served, a whole life-term would need to be considered in this case otherwise.
The guilty sentence was decided upon by a jury of nine men and three women last week. There is a mandatory life sentence for murder; however, an application for parole can be made after 12 years.
Following victim impact statements from the Murphy family and loved ones, Justice Hunt stated that despite “indescribable” evidence in the case supporting Puska’s guilt, “the one thing we don’t know about this case is the way.”
“Unless that becomes known, the question of your safe return to society must be an open one,” the judge said.
Among the evidence offered during the trial, one of the key components was CCTV footage which capturing Puska cycling around Tullamore on the afternoon of Ms. Murphy’s murder. In the video footage, Puska is seen following two other women before turning towards the canal, where he isolated Ms. Murphy, who was walking alone.
At the scene, Puska’s DNA was found underneath the victim’s fingernails and his bike was discovered closeby. The prosecution maintained that the DNA is evidence Ms. Murphy had scratched her attacker in defence.
When gardaí spoke with Puska at St. James Hospital the day after the murder, his face and hands were covered in scratches and he initially admitted to committing the murder.
In trial, however, Puska retracted his initial confession, stating he does not remember making it, and instead claimed that he had been cycling along the towpath when he was attacked and stabbed by a masked man. He further insisted that the same man attacked and killed Ms. Murphy before fleeing, and that Puska himself attempted to help the victim.
Prosecution counsel Anne-Marie Lawlor SC described his version of events as a “foul and contemptible fabrication,” and the jury further rejected his story.
Justice Hunt stated he does not accept that Puska does not recall his initial confession, saying, “I don’t accept that he had amnesia of that kind or anything like.” He added that there is no requirement for a suspect to be medically assessed before speaking to gardaí, and that Puska’s low-level injuries and discomfort at the time did not affect his ability to speak with police.
Ms. Murphy’s loved ones appeared in court for the trial to deliver impactful statements directed at Puska. Murphy’s long-term partner Ryan Casey spoke to Puska directly, stating, “Because of you, I’ve lost my Ashling. Because of you, I will never get to marry my soulmate. Because of you, I will never see her smile again… I will have to somehow carry on without her.”
He shared that he could not comprehend how someone could “completely and permanently destroy someone… who is the complete opposite,” sharing that Ms. Murphy was “a light with dreams, compassion, respect, a person who contributes to society in the best way possible.”
Mr. Casey detailed his loving relationship with his partner, sharing that they had plans to travel, get married, build a house in Galway and start a family. He said they had talked about how many children they would have one day, and how they imagined they would be “little hurlers and camogie players and even better — musicians.”
“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,” Casey spoke to Puska directly.
“But you will never ever harm or touch another woman ever again,” he added. “When your day of reckoning comes, may you be in hell a whole half hour before god even knows you're dead.”
Ms. Murphy’s sister, Amy Murphy, further stated that Puska showed “zero remorse during this trial,” accusing him of smirking and smiling throughout the proceedings. “We were totally disturbed by Puska’s demeanour,” she said.
Ms. Murphy’s mother, Kathleen, and her sister described the 23-year-old teacher as a brilliant musician, who was passionate about her job and a selfless person, integral to their family.
“This country has lost somebody who made a difference,” her sister stated.
Murphy’s mother Kathleen, her father Raymond and brother Cathal were present in court for the sentencing. Her mother shared that her “heart broke the moment I heard the bad news Ashling was murdered,” adding, Puska “must have consequences” and “he should never see the light of day again.”
“There is such a void in our home,” she shared.
Outside court, following the trial’s conclusion, senior Garda officer Chief Superintendent Tony Lonergan praised Murphy’s family for their composure and bravery during the trial.
He stated, “The courage, the dignity, the resilience and the strength that they are showing during this ordeal has been exemplary.”