Teresa Donnelly remembers ‘beautiful’ young mother of three children as man who killed her is jailed for life
The mother of Belfast murder victim Jennifer Dornan has said she can never forgive her daughter’s killer.
Teresa Donnelly was speaking after west Belfast man Raymond O’Neill was convicted on Friday of murdering the mum-of-three and handed a life sentence.
O’Neill stabbed the 30-year-old after she returned home from a night out before setting her house on fire in August 2015.
After a day of intense emotions, Ms Donnelly on Friday night described how she felt “ecstatic” in court when the guilty verdict was delivered.
“I can’t believe it. It was so emotional for our family, we were standing and jumping up and down,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.
“We thanked the jury and then when we were leaving, we clapped because it was just touch and go and we just didn’t know what way things were going to go. At the end of the day, all I wanted was justice for what he did.”
Ms Donnelly said the automatic life sentence for O’Neill (43) was hugely important for the family. A minimum tariff will be set at a later date, but her choice would be for him to never be released.
“Every day without fail, I cry for my daughter because she was on her own when she died,” she added.
“What he did to her, what he took away from her in her own home — he went into a place where she was supposed to feel safe.
“It doesn’t matter if she had her door or windows open, he went in like a predator and took her. Most of all, he took her away from her three beautiful children.”
Ms Donnelly added that she feels there can never be a time when she can forgive O’Neill, who claimed during the trial that he had suffered memory loss after a stroke in October 2016 caused by a drug overdose after prison staff in Dublin “poisoned him”.
“He has destroyed me. He showed no remorse for what he did, all his denying things and claiming to have no memory,” she added.
Ms Donnelly described Jennifer as “the most bubbly girl I have ever known in my life”.
“She was the life and soul of the party. She was a gorgeous girl and a beautiful mother, she just loved her children,” she added.
“I think that people like him prey on vulnerable people and she was a vulnerable girl.
“She was taken away in those horrendous circumstances.”
Together with her wider family members, Ms Donnelly now acts as the guardian for her daughter’s three children Martin (15), Jayden (13) and Abbie (10).
“Everybody helps out, even Jennifer’s friends,” she said.
“One of them takes Abbie at the weekends and Jayden would stay with his aunty Claire too.
“My brother is a HGV driver and he takes them to motor shows. I can’t thank them enough because they’re always helping out.”
Despite getting justice for the family after seven agonising years, Ms Donnelly said healing was still a slow process.
“It’s been horrific, to tell you the truth,” she said.
“You can’t sleep, you don’t eat properly. You just don’t think of yourself after what happened.”
She said the trauma has also made her fearful for the safety of other women.
“I still won’t allow anybody to walk anywhere on their own, there’s too many killings of young girls,” she said. Ms Donnelly had attended every day of the eight-week long trial along with her other daughter Claire.
O’Neill never admitted to his crime, but the jury concluded that O’Neill had followed his victim to her Hazel View home seven years ago in the early hours of Sunday, August 2, 2015.
CCTV footage from her neighbour had captured her walking home holding her shoes in hand at 2.53am.
It followed a night of socialising in the Devenish, before she went back to a friend’s house at Lagmore Avenue.
O’Neill had also been at this address, but he didn’t know Jennifer before that weekend.
The same camera captured O’Neill, who was aged 37 at the time and living in a bedsit at Amcomri Street, holding a jacket over his face and walking along Hazel View at 3.12am.
After entering Ms Dornan’s Lagmore home, he stabbed her in the chest three times before starting a fire in her bedroom to destroy the evidence.
He tried to escape his crimes by fleeing to Donegal before he was arrested five days later in Bundoran.
After delivering the guilty verdict on Friday, Mr Justice Scoffield told him: “Mr O’Neill, you have been convicted by the jury of the offence of murder and by law there is only one sentence which is available to me in respect of that offence.
“Your sentence will be one of imprisonment for life.”