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I jumped for joy when I heard about killer Michael O'Connor's guilty plea, says mother of murdered Joleen Corr

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Family and friends of Joleen Corr, including her mother Carol (second from left), at Downpatrick Court yesterday

Family and friends of Joleen Corr, including her mother Carol (second from left), at Downpatrick Court yesterday

Joleen Corr

Joleen Corr

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Family and friends of Joleen Corr, including her mother Carol (second from left), at Downpatrick Court yesterday

The mother of a Belfast woman murdered by her partner in 2016 said she jumped for joy on hearing that the killer had pleaded guilty to her murder at the last minute on Monday.

Trainee beautician Joleen Corr (27) had endured 16 months of agony after an attack at her Downpatrick home in December 2016 left her barely recognisable, paralysed and in a vegetative state.

After a court ruling in 2018, doctors withdrew treatment and she passed away on April 26, 2018.

A jury had been sworn in on Monday for the trial of 34-year-old west Belfast man Michael O'Connor.

But when a guilty plea was entered to the murder charge at the last minute, Joleen's mum Carol Corr said that for the first time in almost four years she could breathe easy with the knowledge she'd got justice for her daughter.

"I just jumped for joy," Carol said.

"We knew something was happening when the barrister called us in. I sat facing him and he just told us: 'It's good news, he's pleading guilty'. I hugged him. I hugged everybody. There were tears of joy.

"I couldn't believe what I was hearing. We'd got justice for Joleen - just like that.

"We thought we were going to be facing three weeks of going through it all again in the trial, that we'd have to sit there and hear everything he did to her. All the gory details.

"The news was a big shock. We thought he would try to work the system as he has done all his life, but hearing that guilty plea gave me an amazing feeling.

"You couldn't anger me if you tried. I'm just so happy that we've got to this stage, for Joleen, for myself, my family, her friends. Everybody who supported us.

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Joleen Corr

Joleen Corr

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Joleen Corr

"It's unreal. I can't explain this happy feeling. I know a guilty plea won't bring Joleen back but to get justice for her is a big weight off my shoulders.

"There's a satisfaction that we've done her proud. I believe she was with us the whole way through this."

Following his plea, Judge Geoffrey Miller QC told the self-confessed killer: "There is only one sentence prescribed by law: that of life imprisonment."

The Corr family heard how O'Connor wished to apologise to the victim's family for all of the "misery and harm that he had caused" and the distress he had caused them and Joleen.

Carol admitted she had found the court experience upsetting before the change of plea.

"When I saw Michael in the court I was so hurt. I could feel the anger within myself and at some of the things that were said.

"I refused to let her memory down. I got up and walked out in buckets of tears.

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Confession: Michael O’Connor

Confession: Michael O’Connor

Confession: Michael O’Connor

"I managed to calm down, went in again, and to see him sitting there wasn't nice.

"I kept looking at the back of his head and praying to God to keep me calm, help me through this, help my family through this."

Judge Miller commended the Corr family for the dignified way they had conducted themselves throughout the hearing.

"That was a lovely thing to hear, but we would never have let Joleen down," said Carol.

"We would have gone to the trial every day, see this through to the end. Joleen deserved that from us and we're proud to have seen this through.

"Part of me wanted to see him squirm. Let him know that we were there, watching him, but now that we don't have to go through all of that it's a big relief.

"It's terrible that it happened. Watching her die from her injuries, watching her suffering, dying in my arms then having to bury her in the ground.

"There was depression, then we thought we would never get our day in court. I couldn't grieve for her. I was just so angry. I couldn't settle. I knew the whole family was suffering. We couldn't understand why he refused to admit his guilt.

"It was a long wait, but right now it feels worth it.

"On the way back from court this big rainbow came out. That had happened a few hours before she died. I take it as a sign. It rained and that told me her spirit is happy. There's no feeling like it.

"I'm going to her grave tomorrow with her favourite colour, burnt orange, with tulips and a yellow rose, that was what I put on her memory card. I'll spend a few moments and talk to her like I always do and tell her we've done it for you.

"When things like this happen there's a ripple effect through the whole family.

"I know I suffer the most pain, as part of me went with her. She was my child, but I could see my other children suffering too, my wee grandson is suffering because his mummy's gone.

"Now, at least, we have the chance to breathe again.

"We all know we will never get her back, but we can now tell her we've got justice for her."

O'Connor is due back at court next month for sentencing.

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