A violent thug who caused his partner to fatally fall down stairs when he struck her took a bus to Belfast and left her to die, a court was told on Friday.
During a remote hearing of Downpatrick Crown Court, the court was told that Michael O’Connor (34) and his vulnerable partner Joleen Corr had been fighting over her mobile phone on December 2, 2016 when he struck her, causing her to fall down the stairs at her home in Thomas Russell Park.
It was that fall which caused a skull fracture, described by a witness as “feeling like a broken Easter egg,” and subdural hematoma which was the cause of death, said prosecuting QC Phillip Mateer adding that in addition to that fatal injury, her jaw had been broken and there were close to 50 bruises all over her body which were “black and blue.”
Joleen’s family had attended a police station so they could listen and watch the conference call hearing and while Judge Geoffrey Miller QC praised their “very real dignity”, he reminded those taking part that despite the unusual procedure, “it is still a court of law.”
Joleen’s family listened intently as Mr Mateer outlined that as the mother-of-one lay stricken in her bed having been knocked down the stairs, O’Connor callously took a bath before taking their two and a half year old son on the 10.15am bus to Belfast “because he had things to do.”
The argument, which started when Joleen’s ex-boyfriend accidentally telephoned her, had occurred the night before but O’Connor did not alert anyone until 12.30pm, calling a neighbour to ask him to check on her, claiming Joleen had called him because “she had taken a load of tablets.”
The neighbour who went to help, seeing the state Joleen was in, called O’Connor and asked him, “What did you do to her?” said the lawyer, adding the defendant claimed, “I done nothing to her - she tried to hang herself last night.”
Mr Mateer told the court however those claims can be dismissed by the established scientific and medical evidence as there were no drugs in Joleen’s system, no ligature marks and due to the severity of her brain injury, “she could not have possibly phoned the defendant.”
He revealed that when she arrived at hospital, her injuries were so serious that neurosurgeons made the initial decision that “medical intervention would not have been in her best interests at that time” but their decision was later reversed and a procedure carried out to treat the swelling of her brain.
With Joleen lying in hospital in a vegetative state O'Connor, originally from Westrock Grove in Belfast but whose address is given as c/o Maghaberry prison, was initially charged with inflicting grievous bodily harm with intent but following a landmark ruling in 2018, doctors withdrew treatment and she tragically died on April 26.
O’Connor had been due to go on trial last February but at the eleventh hour, with a jury sworn and witnesses poised to testify, he asked to be rearraigned and finally admitted his guilt.
Mr Mateer told Judge Miller the guilty plea to murder was accepted on the basis that O’Connor had struck Joleen once, causing her to fall down the stairs and that in striking her, he did not intend to kill her but did intend to cause her GBH.
He said while O’Connor claimed he only struck once, Joleen had sustained a “multiplicity” of bruises and a fractured jaw in addition to the fatal skull fracture, injuries which experts opined were akin to those expected in a car crash “or high impact incident,” conceding that the Crown “are not in a position to challenge that by objective evidence.”
Defence QC Charles Maccreanor submitted the medical evidence in the case supports O’Connor’s claims that it was one strike “rather than an assault over a sustained period.”
He argued that while the court “could never be satisfied” that it was more than a single blow which caused Joleen to fall down the stairs, he conceded it was that fall which caused the fatal injury and O’Connor “is directly responsible for that.
“He is fully responsible... and he lives with the shame and disgust of his behaviour, that never leaves him,” said Mr MacCreanor.
O’Connor was handed a life sentence the day he admitted his guilt but adjourning fixing the minimum tariff O’Connor must serve before he can even be considered for release under licence, Judge Miller said “something that I cannot lose sight of” was the fact that in the background of all that happened, a young child had been in the house at the time.
Thanking both the prosecution and defence for their detailed written and oral submissions, the judge said he hoped to fix the minimum life tariff on 2 July.