A French Foreign Legion deserter who stabbed a retired school teacher to death when she tried to stop him from killing himself should have his case referred to the Parole Commissioners Board, a court has heard.
Defence QC Barry McDonald submitted to Belfast Crown Court that the minimum life tariff for Richard Close “should not be set higher than the period he has already served”.
In 1996 the French Legionnaire deserter was jailed for life for the murder of 59-year-old retired school teacher Daphne Taylor after he stabbed her twice in the neck as she walked her dog at Ballymacormick Point, close to Groomsport, on December 1, 1994.
The Good Samaritan widow had tried to help Close, then aged 23, as he attempted to take his own life.
In applying to Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan and Lord Justice McCollum for the minimum tariff Close must serve before being eligible to apply for parole to be set yesterday, Mr McDonald said while it had been a “savage and cowardly attack” there was objective evidence that 38-year-old Close was suffering from an “abnormality of mind”, had shown clear and genuine remorse and that, in mitigation, he had confessed to police that he had stabbed her.
At the time Close, from the Ballymaconnell Road in Bangor, told officers: “The tragedy of all this is that if the woman had not come over to me like a Good Samaritan this would never have happened. I will never get rid of the guilt.”
As he was convicted before the introduction of the Life Sentence legislation which permits a judge to set the absolute minimum a convicted murderer must serve before being considered for release on licence, his lawyers can ask the court to set the figure.
Sentencing judges have always made clear, however, that the tariff figure is the least amount an offender will serve before having their case referred to the Life Sentence Review Commissioners, who will decide if a prisoner is to be released depending on the level of danger they pose to the public.
Close has been in jail for the murder since he was arrested for it in December 1994 and Mr McDonald submitted that a minimum tariff in excess of that “would be inappropriate” given the facts and circumstances of the case.
A prosecution lawyer said Mrs Taylor, given her age, had been a “vulnerable” victim and had been stabbed by Close when he was “probably standing or kneeling on her back”.
He revealed that at the time Close murdered Mrs Taylor he was on bail for raping a schoolgirl, an offence of which he was later convicted and jailed for 10 years.
It can be further revealed that just three weeks after he knifed the retired school teacher to death Close viciously attacked another woman in the grounds of Castle Park in Bangor.
Maggie Jackson, then aged 42, was walking through the park to her house when Close grabbed her from behind, put his hand over her mouth and dragged her to the ground where he kicked and punched her before the woman's teenage son came to her rescue, lashing out at Close with a spade.
Jailing Close for four years in February 1996, Judge Anthony Hart QC said it “is clear beyond any doubt that this man represents a very grave danger to women”.