‘Evil in this room’, judge says as Puska convicted

Jozef Puska has been found guilty of the murder of school teacher Ashling Murphy in a random attack beside the Grand Canal in Tullamore in January last year.

A jury at the Central Criminal Court reached a unanimous guilty verdict after a trial lasting just over three weeks.

He will be sentenced to the mandatory term of life in prison later this month after victim impact evidence is heard.

The jurors found the 33-year-old father of five, who is originally from Slovakia, guilty of murdering the 23-year-old primary school teacher in a random stabbing as she walked along the Grand Canal on 12 January 2022.

After the jury returned its verdict, Mr Justice Tony Hunt said to lose a child is unnatural, adding, “we have evil in this room”.

Ashling Murphy was killed on 12 January 2022

He said he was glad they did not waste any more of their valuable time with Puska’s nonsense, “because that’s what it was”, he said.

The judge said this was no reflection on the people who had to run Puska’s defence. He said this was a really difficult job and everyone was entitled to put forward a defence even one as threadbare as this.

He told the jury he agreed with their verdict and thanked them for “quite literally making sure nobody got away with murder”.

Mr Justice Hunt said the Murphy family had the option to provide victim impact statements and he hoped such statements would be provided.

He said you do not hear much about the victims in a case like, except for the horrible details.

The case was particularly difficult for them because of the focus on it, he said, but he said the reason for the focus was because of the kind of person Ms Murphy obviously was.

He said she represented the good things in our communities and that was why he believed people became so engaged with this case.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt (File pic:

The judge said to lose a child was unnatural. But he said the position of the Murphy family was unenviable. How their child was taken away, he said, was enough to make you physically ill.

He said there would be a day of reckoning for Puska.

“We have evil in this room. No doubt about that,” Mr Justice Hunt said.

Ms Murphy’s mother held a photograph of her daughter as the judge spoke. As the jurors left the jury box her friends and family applauded.

Puska’s family were upset and angry. His father spoke loudly in Slovak.

An elderly woman held up small cross and shook it at people saying “everyone in this room, Jesus”.

Puska will be sentenced on 17 November.

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The evidence pointing to Puska’s guilt had been described as overwhelming.

Puska did not know Ms Murphy, they had never met and there was no connection at all between them. The evidence suggested two other women were lucky not to have been attacked by him on that day.

Puska was seen on CCTV following two local women on his bicycle in the hours before Ms Murphy was killed. He followed one of them again by the Grand Canal as she walked her dog.

Ashling Murphy set off for a walk along the canal at nine minutes to three in the afternoon. Data from her Fitbit suggested she was dead 40 minutes later.

She was stabbed 11 times in the right side of her neck. Her voicebox was cut and major veins and an artery were damaged.

Two local women came upon the attack after they spotted Puska’s distinctive bicycle discarded in an embankment.

One of them saw Puska holding Ms Murphy down in the undergrowth, as she kicked her legs.

The woman, Jenna Stack, described Ms Murphy “kicking so hard,” “crying out for help”, using the only part of her body she could move.

Ms Stack and her friend Aoife Marron raised the alarm and local man Enda Molloy found Ms Murphy’s body within minutes, with the first call to emergency services being made at 3.34pm.

Floral tributes and cards left near the scene of the attack last year

Puska hid in a ditch until it was dark before calling to a friend to get a lift to his home. He then fled to his parent’s apartment in Dublin where he shaved off his beard and stabbed himself in the stomach. He was taken to St James’s Hospital the following morning.

In hospital, he claimed he had been stabbed in an attack in Blanchardstown, but his story did not add up and Tullamore gardaí quickly became involved.

Two days after the killing he confessed in hospital to the murder. The confession came freely and spontaneously from him while speaking through an interpreter in his native Slovak language.

He told gardaí, “I did it. I murdered. I am the murderer”, and went on to say in English that he cut Ms Murphy’s neck, at a time when the fact that she had been stabbed was not publicly known.

Puska’s DNA and a fingerprint were found on the bicycle at the scene. His DNA was also underneath Ms Murphy’s fingernails.

Despite all this, Puska pleaded not guilty. In garda custody after his arrest, he said he did not know Ashling, he had never met her and the first he’d seen of her was in a photograph shown to him by gardaí during his interviews.

He said he did not recall what he had said in hospital as he was “after surgery and many tablets”.

An expert for the prosecution said the amount of pain medication in his system could not have influenced his confessions to gardaí.

Puska called his own expert medical witness who admitted he had over-estimated the amount of pain medication in Puska’s system, but claimed he could also have been affected by the surgery he had the night before, the unfamiliar environment he was in and by communication issues because English was not his first language.

Puska gave evidence in this trial in his own defence and in the witness box a new story emerged.

He claimed he had been the victim of an attack and a witness to Ms Murphy’s murder. He told the jury he was attacked by a masked man who stabbed him and then killed Ms Murphy.

He claimed he was a Good Samaritan who tried to save her life.

He said he hid in a ditch afterwards because he was scared and lost consciousness and he said he had asked people at home to burn the clothes he had been wearing.

His story was described by prosecuting counsel Anne-Marie Lawlor as “ludicrous” and “farcical”. The jury did not believe it either.

He has been in custody since 18 January last year and now faces many more years in jail.

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