Ashling Murphy’s boyfriend fought back tears this afternoon as he told his girlfriend’s killer Jozef Puska, “Because of you I’ve lost everything I’ve ever wanted in life. Because of you, I’ll never get to marry my soulmate.”
Ms Murphy’s mother and her sister described 23-year-old Ms Murphy as a gifted musician, a passionate teacher, a selfless person and an integral part of their family.
“This country has lost somebody who made a difference,” Ashling’s older sister Amy Murphy said.
They gave their victim impact statements at the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin before Puska was handed a life sentence for Ms Murphy’s murder in Tullamore, Co Offaly, last January.
Ryan Casey said that Ashling represented everything that is good about Irish society but her life was taken by an “insignificant, lowest of the low waste of life”.
At the end of his lengthy address, Mr Casey turned towards Puska to tell him: “I don’t care where you end up or what happens to you after today. But you smirked, you smiled, and you showed zero remorse throughout this trial, which sums up who you really are, the epitome of pure evil but one thing is for sure, you will never ever harm or touch another woman ever again and when your day of reckoning comes, may you be in hell a whole half hour before God even knows you’re dead.”
Ashling’s heartbroken mother Kathleen wrote a statement which was read to the court by Garda Sgt Lucy McLoughlin. Mrs Murphy revealed that she had “begged” Ashling not to go to the canal that day.
She said: “It has always made me feel ill-at-ease and I asked her to go jogging out near home. She responded, “Ah mum, I am 23 years old.” She gave me a big hug as she said, “I love you, you’re the best mum in the world” and walked out the door.”
Before handing down the mandatory life sentence for murder, Mr Justice Tony Hunt said it is “long past time that judges should have some say in setting what the minimum terms should be” in murder cases. He said there may be proposals out there and they “might come to fruition” as he criticised the “one size fits all” approach to murder sentencing. He said murders are “not all the same” and “this case is so far up the scale of gravity and well beyond most of the things we come across.”
He said that if he had the power he would set “a very long” minimum sentence and if whole-life orders were available “this is the kind of case where that would have to be considered”.
The judge then ordered Puska to stand before telling him there is only one sentence, which is “richly deserved”, of life imprisonment. Despite Puska going into custody in January of last year, Mr Justice Hunt backdated the sentence only to last week when the verdict was returned.
“I have discretion,” he said. “And the backdate should be entirely academic anyway. Any rational system considering your release would have to take into account that we don’t know the why, and unless that becomes known it seems to me, unless you are enfeebled by disease or old age, the question of your safe return to society will be or should be a very open one. Very well, you may take him away.”
Six prison officers led Puska to the cell area. He will first be eligible to apply for parole after serving 12 years in prison.
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 12, 2022.
A jury at the Central Criminal Court in Dublin convicted him of the murder last week, finding that he stabbed Ms Murphy 11 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.
In a lengthy statement to the court, Mr Casey frequently had to stifle sobs and drink from a bottle of water as he described his love for Ashling and the life they planned to build together. He said he never knew there was a pain as severe as the “physical and emotional pain that comes with losing the most important person in your life, and especially in such a horrific, senseless, and just beyond evil act by such an insignificant lowest of the low, waste of life.”
Mr Casey told the court about his first meeting with Ashling aged just 15 and how he immediately knew there was something special about her. They started dating in late 2016 and fell in love.
They planned to move to Galway in late summer of 2022 and to travel later to Dubai for two years where Ashling dreamed of teaching before returning home to build their home and start a family. They knew where they would build the house and were planning to meet an architect to begin the planning process.
They planned their wedding day, what engagement ring he would buy for her, her dress, who would be in the bridal party, the church, the reception, “even down to what our wedding song would be, which Ashling always wanted to be “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from the Lion King.” He said: “I would have married Ashling a long time ago if I could and I wish I had, but we just didn’t get the chance to reach that part of our plan.”
Mr Casey said he had lost his partner in life and his closest and best friend. “I’ve lost my parents-in-law, a sister-in-law, a brother-in-law, the privilege of marrying into the Murphy and Leonard family, a role model for my little sister, future grandchildren for my parents and Ashling’s parents and great grandchildren for my grandparents.
“Everything that I ever wanted in life, every single plan that I had in life is now gone and cannot be brought back. Ashling was simply everything to me, and this is what I’ve lost, I’ve simply lost everything, Ashling was just everything.”
Describing his “heaven on earth” relationship with Ms Murphy, he said it was “filled with nothing but so much love, happiness, joy, adventure, trust and most importantly, respect.” They had grown up together, “experienced so much” and “made so many beautiful memories”.
“Honestly, Ashling knew me better than I knew myself,” he said. “She could literally read me like a book, know exactly what mood I was in and knew exactly what to do or say to cheer me up and I know for a fact this went both ways and there was nothing I loved more than cheering her up when she was having a bad day.
He said his mind keeps going back to the last time they met on January 10, two days before the murder. She called to his house to deliver some shopping but they couldn’t share a hug as he was isolating due to an outbreak of covid among his family.
He said: “There was brief moment where I was standing beside her, and she was standing at her car door just before she sat in, where we just stood looking into each other’s eyes for about 3 to 4 seconds until we both just pouted from not being able to give each other a hug and a kiss then laughed and said our goodbyes and said to each other what we always have said to each other every single night for five years straight, ”I love you”. And I ask myself each and every time, why didn’t I just give her a huge hug and never let her go.”
He said it makes no sense to him that somebody “so insignificant, worthless, the lowest of the low, a burden to society and overall, a waste of life, can completely and permanently destroy so many people’s lives by taking the life of a person who is the complete opposite.” Ashling’s life, he said, was filled with meaning, dreams, love, compassion, respect. She was “a person who contributed to society in the best ways possible”.
She had more life and love to give, Mr Casey said, and was “taken from us far too soon”. He said he is sickened that Puska was “fully supported in terms of social housing, social welfare, free medical care for over 10 years” yet never having held down a job and “never once contributing to society in any way shape or form can commit such a horrendous evil act of incomprehensible violence on such a beautiful, loving and talented person.”
Ashling, by contrast, worked for the State as a teacher, “educating the next generation and she represented everything that is good about Irish society.” Mr Casey said we have to put the safety of “everybody in this country who works hard, pays taxes, raises families and overall contributes to society first”.
The “horrific, senseless and completely evil taking of Ashling’s life is our life sentence,” he said. “A sentence in which there is no parole.”
Turning to face Puska, Mr Casey said: “You have no idea, nor did you ever and will never have any idea, the level of connection and love that Ashling and I shared.” He said Puska has no idea what he stole from them and how much Ashling meant to the people who loved her.
Amy told the court that she spent years “listening, watching and adoring over the young girl, my sister, who grew up to become the soil that kept our family and friends nourished with positivity, humour and hope.” Ashling, she said, was the glue that bound the family together. She took after their mother with her warm smile and her dad with her “cheeky wit and wink”.
“Ashling brought the best out of us. Our parents instilled a strong work ethic in Ashling and she knew the value of a pound. They taught her that nothing is handed to you in this life and if she wanted something she would have to earn it and that she did.”
Despite being the youngest, Ashling was everybody’s role model. “She had such an endearing personality and was so generous with her time, her love and her talents, giving so much of herself to others.”
“Musicians of all ages were welcomed into our home every week to learn and absorb Ashling’s talent and passion for music and listen to her stories, hanging onto her every word. The eerie quietness that now remains in the house is deafening.”
Ashling had taken up a post as a primary school teacher in Durrow National School three months before her death and was “reaping the rewards” of her hard work. She was like “a second mammy” to her 28 students and “immersed herself in all things the school life had to offer, helping out with the school choir and music groups whenever she could, always encouraging the children with genuine affection and enthusiasm.”
During the trial, a pink bobble hat that Ashling wore when she died was mentioned frequently by witnesses and by gardaí reviewing the CCTV that showed her last movements. Amy revealed that the hat was a gift from their grandfather, with whom Ashling shared a special bond, on his last Christmas alive.
She said: “Our lives were enormously enriched because of Ashling. She was charismatic, compassionate and her infectious laugh could light up any room. As siblings do, she could roast myself or Cathal with some of her best one-liners, however she never sought to be centre of attention.
“She had the ability to strike up conversation with anyone irrespective of their age and made them feel like they genuinely had a friend in her. Her zest for life was palpable to anybody that was in her company.”
Kathleen Murphy described her daughter as “one in a million”. “She was loving, caring and always had a gentle big smile for everyone. She always thought about everyone else before herself.” Despite all her achievements at such a young age, Kathleen said Ashling was “grounded and humble” and never wanted to be the centre of attention.
She said she misses going to Ashling’s camogie matches and music concerts and the “many wonderful places” they visited and people they met because of Ashling’s talents.
“Everyone wanted to be in her company. I miss her smiling face coming home after her day’s work in school. Ashling and I never had a row. She was too nice. You could never have a row with her.
“Ashling used to love cooking and always prepared the dinner on a Friday while I was in town grocery shopping. In return I would always bring her home a bar of chocolate. Ashling was every mum and dad’s dream daughter.”
Mrs Murphy spoke of the heartbreak since Ashling’s murder, “like having a stroke, my heart was ripped from my body.” She said her motivation and love for life are gone and she is no longer able for big crowds or small-talk.
She said: “I used to go for a walk or jog after dinner on a Sunday with Ashling and Amy. I will not go for a walk anymore as I am too afraid of that monster. His actions will always be in the back of my mind. People say you are doing great but underneath I am just barely existing from day to day.”
She added: “Why someone could go out and brutally murder a young woman who they have never met before is totally incomprehensible. His actions must have consequences. He should never see the light of day again.”
Speaking outside court, a senior Garda officer praised Ms Murphy’s relatives for their “courage, dignity and resilience” during the trial.
Garda Chief Superintendent Tony Lonergan said: “Ashling, a school teacher, was out for a walk after work when she was attacked and murdered by Mr Puska.
“This monstrous crime shocked the nation.
“I want to pay tribute to all the members of An Garda Siochana involved in this investigation, and in particular my colleagues at Tullamore Garda Station where the investigation was based.
“I also want to thank the community of Tullamore, a compassionate, kind, resilient, and generous community. They were of invaluable assistance to An Garda Siochana throughout this investigation, providing us in particular with access to CCTV which was instrumental in building the case against Mr Puska, and to achieving a successful prosecution.
“The community also has and continues to support Ashling’s family.
“Finally, I would like to pay tribute to Ashling’s famly … the courage, the dignity, the resilience and the strength that they are showing during this ordeal has been exemplary.
“I want to assure them on behalf of An Garda Siochana that we will continue to support them going forward and give them all the support we can where necessary.”