Raymond O’Neill had already clocked up 86 convictions when he murdered Jennifer Dornan, three of them for extreme violence.
Sentencing him to a minimum of 22 years in prison, Mr Justice Scoffield described him as a “serial thief and burglar”.
The murder of Jennifer (30) was horrific, unthinkable, barbaric, and has had a lasting impact on the lives of her three much-loved children.
O’Neill was a stranger to Jennifer. She was only introduced to him hours before he took her life.
It was an evening that had started off so innocently with an excited Jennifer heading out to socialise with friends.
She was picked up by a pal and O’Neill was in the car.
He moved seats and put the window down, checking the number on Jennifer’s door.
This short encounter was how the predator knew where she lived.
After a few drinks in a friend’s house she headed to a nearby bar. A photographer taking social snaps captured her in the Devenish in west Belfast.
A single mum of three children, she rarely had a babysitter, and so was full of fun when she was snapped enjoying time with friends, a huge smile on her face.
Jennifer was described as “bubbly” and loved by everyone who met her. She had a magnetic personality.
In the Devenish she danced and laughed most of the evening before returning to a friend’s house, where O’Neill was sitting drinking in the kitchen.
Despite trying to impress her, Jennifer showed no interest in him.
After saying her goodbyes, she made her way home alone. It was just a short walk on a summer’s evening.
CCTV from a neighbour’s house at 2.53am captures her, shoes in hand, slightly worse for wear and ready for her bed. She opens and carefully closes her garden gate.
It was the last sighting of the mother of three alive.
It is thought Jennifer was already in bed when, a short time later, the same camera captured O’Neill heading towards her house.
He is seen pulling his coat over his face as he passes the camera, and climbs over a fence rather than opening the garden gate. The time is now 3.12am.
O’Neill spent over an hour in Jennifer’s home.
What horrors she suffered at his hands still haunts her family.
A prosecution barrister described the attack as “every woman’s worst nightmare” — and it was.
The shock of finding a stranger in your home in the middle of the night is terrifying even to contemplate.
The west Belfast man had armed himself with a knife from Jennifer’s kitchen. The court was told the motivation for the attack was sexual.
Jennifer was stabbed three times in the chest, the wounds puncturing her major organs.
She would have been no match for a man armed with a knife.
Not content with having murdered her, O’Neill set a fire in her bedroom to destroy the evidence.
The blaze is seen catching in the top bedroom window as the savage killer makes his escape, again with a coat covering his face.
The blaze destroyed Jennifer’s home. So fierce was it that the roof of the property collapsed on top of her.
Neighbours had to flee their homes as the inferno raged.
The family at first thought the beloved mother, sister and daughter had perished as the result of a house fire.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph earlier this year, Jennifer’s sister Claire described the moment she found out it had actually been murder.
“I couldn’t believe it. I can only describe it like an elephant stomping on my chest,” she recalled.
“I couldn’t breathe, I was hyperventilating.”
That night Jennifer’s children lost not just a devoted and loving mother, but also their home — every toy, every picture, every memory destroyed.
Her body was so badly charred that the family were never able to see it.
She was identified by her dental records, her funeral a closed coffin one.
O’Neill was quickly identified as a suspect.
A manhunt was launched on both sides of the border and he was picked up in Bundoran, Co Donegal.
But that was only the start of a protracted period of wrangling as O’Neill did everything in his power to frustrate the justice system.
He fought extradition, he claimed numerous illnesses, none of which were ever backed up by medical evidence.
He spent the entire trial in a wheelchair despite there being no medical reason.
He claimed to have amnesia, but remembered some details with extreme accuracy, his amnesia only seemingly affecting his memory of the hours around Jennifer’s murder.
Even after being found guilty by a jury, O’Neill continues to taunt his victim’s family.
He appeared for sentencing via video-link claiming to have Covid symptoms despite testing negative, refusing to face the court and the relatives of the woman he so brutally murdered.
The case has taken almost seven years from the day the 30-year-old was murdered until yesterday’s sentencing.
Devoid of remorse, he has never showed any emotion, putting the family through a lengthy trial with harrowing evidence, including an horrific pathology report into Jennifer’s injuries.
Despite this, her family remained dignified throughout — her mother Teresa and sister Claire supporting each other through the most disturbing of evidence.
O’Neill has already lodged an appeal against his conviction — a move that will undoubtedly cause further pain.
Those who knew O’Neill growing up say they were not shocked to hear he had become a murderer.
The killing of Jennifer was part of an escalation in his offending, from petty thief to aggravated break-ins and violent assaults.
He had until the point he murdered Jennifer always escaped with short prison sentences, reoffending within weeks of being released.
When he was arrested in Donegal in the days after the killing he was already wanted in the Republic, having skipped parole and failing to serve the remainder of a jail term for theft.
O’Neill was sentenced to a minimum of 22 years behind bars.
It will then be for the parole commissioners to decide if he should be released.
In doing so they have to establish if he still poses a threat to the public.
It is difficult to see how any period in prison will change that risk.
O’Neill is a man who evaded justice for far too long. He is finally behind bars where he belongs.
For Jennifer’s family — Teresa, Claire and the three children — they have been sentenced to a future of unending pain.
They said: “We have a life sentence. A life sentence without our Jennifer. A daughter, sister and mother.”