Belfast Telegraph

Jury shown CCTV of tragic Jennifer Dornan's last moments before her murder

Jennifer Dornan was found stabbed inside her burning home at Hazel View in the Lagmore area of the city in 2015.
Jennifer Dornan was found stabbed inside her burning home at Hazel View in the Lagmore area of the city in 2015.

By Ashleigh McDonald

A jury has been shown CCTV footage of a Belfast mum-of-three's final moments as she walked home from a night out, minutes before being stabbed to death in her home.

As a trial into the murder of 30-year old Jennifer Dornan commenced at Belfast Crown Court on Monday, the jury of six men and six women were also shown footage of a man following her home covered his face with his jacket.

The Crown say this man was Raymond O'Neill, from Amcomri Street in Belfast, who has been charged with, and denies, murdering Ms Dornan.

It's the Crown's case that after being in her company just before her death, he followed her to her Hazel View home in Lagmore and that once inside, he stabbed her then started a fire to destroy forensic evidence.

As well as denying murder, the 41-year old accused has also denies a charge of arson with intent to endanger life, as by setting fire to Ms Dornan's house he is accused of endangered the lives of seven occupants living in neighbouring properties.

Opening the Crown's case to the jury, prosecuting QC Kieran Murphy revealed that O'Neill and Ms Dornan were in each other's company at around 9.30pm on Saturday August 1, 2015 when Ms Dornan was picked up by a friend before they headed out for the night.

O'Neill was a passenger in the car that picked Ms Dornan up, and while she and her friend then went to the Devenish Arms, O'Neill remained at a house in Lagmore Avenue with his friend.

Ms Dornan and her friend arrived back at Lagmore Avenue at around 1.30am on Sunday, August 2, and after a few drinks, Ms Dornan left and began the short walk to her house.

A short time later - just before 3am - O'Neill also left, and it's the Crown case that O'Neill followed her home covered his face with his cream-coloured coat to avoid a security camera at a neighbour's house.

Mr Murphy told the jury: "It is reasonable to infer he was already intending to cause harm to Jennifer Dornan and that he knew he would find her in the house alone."

Forensic officers at the scene of the house fire in Lagmore where Jennifer Dornan died
Forensic officers at the scene of the house fire in Lagmore where Jennifer Dornan died

Ms Dornan died from three stabs wound to her chest, and was already dead when her bedroom was set on fire.

Mr Murphy said: "The prosecution case is that in the early hours of Sunday the second of August 2015, this defendant followed Jennifer Dornan to her house, he entered the house and went inside.

"The precise events are unknown, but the prosecution say that in her bedroom he stabbed her to death by stabbing her in the chest and that after she had died, he set the house on fire to destroy the evidence."

The senior prosecutor added that after leaving her Hazel View home, it's the Crown's case that O'Neill then walked along Lagmore View before dumping the murder weapon in the back garden of a house on White Glen.

The orange and white knife was the same brand as the knives in Ms Dornan's house, and bore her DNA.

A neighbour of Ms Dornan's was woken from her sleep by the smell of smoke, and when she opened her blinds and curtains, she saw flames coming from Ms Dornan's home.

She called the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service at 4.45am, and when fire crews arrived a short time later, the commander observed that the fire was coming through the roof of the property, and flames were visible through the front window of the house.

Mr Murphy said that when firefighters searched the house, they became aware of a "badly burned body" lying on the bedroom floor which had been partially covered in debris from the burning building.

The house then started to collapse in on itself which forced the firefighters to retreat, and Ms Dornan's remains were removed and taken to the morgue at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

Ms Dornan was identified through dental records, and a post mortem carried out on August 3 confirmed she died from three stab wounds to her chest. Further analysis of carbon monoxide levels in her blood indicated she 'was not alive and breathing after the fire had started.'

Mr Murphy told the jury that in the direct aftermath of the killing, O'Neill was captured on CCTV at several locations in the area.

A friend who met O'Neill in an alleyway at around 4.45am on Sunday August 2 described his demeanor as 'unusual', noted that O'Neill was 'soaking wet' and that in the alley he was 'laughing and joking away.'

The two men then made their way to a woman's house at Laurelbank, where O'Neill handed the occupant his Rosary beads and starting talking about God. The friend saw O'Neill had a cut on his hand and could see blood.

Mr Murphy said that Tuesday August 4, O'Neill was told police were seeking to speak to him about Ms Dornan. The following day he was caught on CCTV entering the bus station at Glengall Street with two bags, and he was arrested on August 7th, 2015 on Bundoran's Main Street by a Guard who recognised he matched the description of a man wanted by the PSNI.

The prosecutor ended the Crown's opening by telling the jury that whilst the case against O'Neill was circumstantial and was based on different pieces of evidence, he said "one piece of evidence may be weak, but when you piece them together they become much stronger."

Mr Murphy concluded: "We say that when you look at all of the evidence you will be satisfied that the defendant Raymond O'Neill murdered Jennifer Dornan and burned the house where her dead body lay, to destroy the evidence.

"He disposed of his jacket which has not been seen again. He didn't discuss her death with anyone and he left the country and was arrested in the Republic."

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