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24 May 2022

'Death had a face': Trevor Rowe gets life for inflicting 'unnatural terror' on pensioner in her own home

KILKENNY

Convicted of murder: Trevor Rowe

A man has been jailed for life for the brutal murder of a Kilkenny pensioner, who suffered a "torturous and painful death" and "unnatural terror" in her own home, her distraught daughter told Central Criminal Court today.


"Death had a face; it shouldn't," Elayne Butler said of her mother's murderer, Trevor Rowe, who remained unmoving and head-bowed throughout the hearing.


Mother-of-one Anne Butler (70) was murdered on Maudlin Street in Kilkenny on March 20, 2020, after being stabbed, beaten and mutilated by Rowe, a 30-year-old drug addict.

Today, Friday, at a sentencing hearing, Trevor Rowe of Abbey Street, Kilkenny, was given the mandatory life sentence for the murder by Ms Justice Karen O'Connor, an offence which she said had caused "unimaginable grief" to Ms Butler's family.


When discovered days after the murder, Ms Butler was found to have had her throat slit, while a large piece of cardboard was found in the back of her mouth and "a strip" of her ear was found in the living room.


Three anonymous 999 calls were traced by gardaí in Kilkenny back to Rowe, including one where he said he murdered a woman five days previously and that the location of the body was on Maudlin Street.


When gardai called to Rowe's home, he fell to his knees, cried uncontrollably and said: "I killed a woman. I murdered a woman. I slit her throat and stuck a knife in her head".

Rowe's defence was that he had been so intoxicated by the amount of drink and drugs he consumed on the day that it prevented him from forming an intent to kill or cause serious injury to Ms Butler. However, last month a jury found him guilty of murder after deliberating for just one hour 19 minutes.

Today, Ms Butler's daughter, Elayne, read a tearful victim impact statement, describing her mother as a "brave, charming, dignified, intelligent woman" who treated everyone with "kindness and love".


Elayne Butler said it was hard to think of her "quick-witted and insightful" mother as a victim, as "she was always a fighter".


She said the last time she met her mother at her home they could not come in close contact because of Covid restrictions and that she asked Anne from outside if she would be ok.


"The air we breathe is free, Elayne. Where would we be without it?" Anne said in her last words to her daughter.


Elayne said that her mother thought of her home as her favourite place but that "I [Elayne] never thought that her sanctuary would become a tomb".


She described her mother as a woman of faith who was not afraid to die but that she had been subject to a "torturous and painful death" with "unnatural terror". "Death had a face; it shouldn't," she said of Rowe, who remained unmoving and head-bowed throughout the hearing.


Ms Butler said the cause of her mother's death was not discovered until after a post-mortem that revealed the "brutality" of the killing. She added that her mother's "privacy was also taken, as well as her life".

Ms Butler said her mother did everything for her, that she could still see her singing and that it did not seem possible that things could ever be made better. "I miss you and you should still be safe in your home. You're simply the best. I love you," she said.


In her victim impact statement, which was read by Garda Lisa Mullins, Anne's younger sister Paula McPherson Jones said that she always received a "warm and wholesome welcome" from Anne and Elayne when she returned home from the UK. She said Anne was devoted to her daughter, Elayne, and that she was "kind, thoughtful and very generous".


Ms McPherson-Jones said her world "fell apart" when she got the news of Anne's death and that the death of her "beautiful and courageous sister" was "too difficult to comprehend". She said it had been "two, long years" before the full facts surrounding the murder were discovered and that they were "the stuff of nightmares". In addressing Rowe, she wrote: "If you have a drop of human kindness, what were her last words? Why did you do it?"


Detective Sergeant Brian Sheeran told today's hearing that Rowe had 31 previous convictions that included drug offences, assault, criminal damage, trespass, possession of knives, burglary, violent disorder and theft. 

Det Sgt Sheeran said Rowe was known to gardaí in Kilkenny as a man "suffering with drug addiction and alcohol dependency".


Kathleen Leader SC, for Rowe, said her client wanted to express his "deep sorrow" to the family of Anne Butler and that he accepted both the verdict and that the sentence would be one of life. Ms Leader said Rowe was "deeply ashamed" for bringing shame upon himself and his own family.


She said Rowe had very troubled upbringing and had suffered domestic violence. Counsel said her client had been taken into care when he was three, was moved around in foster and institutional care until he was 16 years-old and had battled with drink and drug addiction.


Ms Justice O'Connor imposed the mandatory life sentence upon Rowe and sympathised with the family of Ms Butler, who she said acted with "strength and dignity throughout the trial and through unimaginable grief". She thanked the family for their statements "which gave an insight into a very independent woman who enjoyed travel and who was generous and much-loved". She said the murder had an "enormously painful and profound impact" on the family.


EVIDENCE HEARD AT TRIAL


At the outset of the trial, Padraic McInerney said that he was working in Waterford Garda Station on March 25 2020, when he received a call on the 999 line from an anonymous phone number. "The first thing the caller said to me was 'Call me God'," he said. The caller then later said: "I wish to inform An Garda Siochana that I killed a woman".

Witness Fiona Dunphy said that she received another 999 call at 6.30pm on the same day. "The male came through and said he murdered someone and told me that the location of the body was at the back of Langtons on Maudlin Street in Kilkenny," she said.

The witness told the jury that the caller seemed to be frustrated and said he would commit another murder if they did not take the calls seriously.

Detective Garda Martin Power told the jury that after gardai had traced the anonymous calls, he called to Rowe's apartment on Abbey Street on March 25 and found the defendant standing in front of his couch and rummaging with both hands behind his back.

"I asked him what he was doing with his hands and he pulled out two screwdrivers, one in each hand. I asked him to leave the screwdrivers down and he complied with my request and left them aside," said Det Gda Power.

The detective asked Rowe what knowledge he had of the 999 phone calls and said the accused fell to his knees crying uncontrollably.

Rowe then told Det Gda Power: "I killed a woman. I murdered a woman. I slit her throat and stuck a knife in her head on March 20 at Maudlin Street".

The accused later showed gardai to Mrs Butler's house on Maudlin Street before again falling to the ground where he broke down crying.

The detective opened the door of Ms Butler's house and as he did "a gush of heat" hit him along with a smell of what he believed to be a decaying body. Det Power's colleague confirmed to him that there was a female body in the living room and that the circumstances of her death appeared suspicious.

Rowe was arrested at 7.38pm that evening on suspicion of the murder of Ms Butler and conveyed to Kilkenny Garda Station.

Detective Sergeant James O'Brien told the trial that Ms Butler had lacerations to the neck, an injury to the head and her left ear appeared to be missing when he entered her home on March 25.

Describing the accused's demeanour in the back of the patrol car following his arrest, Det Sgt O'Brien said Rowe made several statements in the vehicle including "I just wanted her to be found" and that he had "slit her throat and stabbed her in the head last Friday".

The court heard that the defendant asked himself "what have I done, what have I done".

Det Sgt O'Brien said the accused also stated: "I thought it was going to be an easy touch, what have I done".

Chief State Pathologist Linda Mulligan testified that the body of the pensioner was discovered in a mutilated state after she had been beaten, stabbed and had her throat slit, while a large piece of cardboard was also found in the back of her mouth.

The court heard that "a strip" of Ms Butler's ear was later found in the living room of her home and Dr Mulligan agreed that part of the victim's ear had been cut off.

Forensic scientist Dr Alan McGee also told the jury that a Linden Village cider can, a crowbar and the wooden part of a crucifix were found in Ms Butler's living room on Maudlin Street. He said that a male DNA profile obtained from the Linden Village can matched Rowe's DNA profile.

The witness said he also examined blood-stained gloves found on a coffee table in the accused's apartment on Abbey Street. "A female DNA matching that of Ms Butler was obtained from a sample of this blood-staining," he said.

The jury also saw CCTV footage of Rowe walking in the direction of the woman's house on the night she was killed.

The 12 jurors also heard that Rowe accepted in garda interviews that he killed the woman but refused to say why, telling detectives it was to do with "no one; just me, God and that woman". He had also said that: "It wouldn't do her family any good to know. I can't even close my fucking eyes with the nightmare I see.

When asked by gardai why he could not tell them what he did to Ms Butler, Rowe replied: "because it's disgusting."

The defendant also told officers that he was going to return to Ms Butler's house "to cut her up and bury her legs one place and bury her arms somewhere else" but instead made anonymous phone calls to gardai so they could find her body.

The trial had heard that a timber cross was recovered from the floor in one of the bedrooms in Ms Butler's house on Maudlin Street and a "Jesus figure" was found in Rowe's apartment on Abbey Street.

A forensic scientist gave evidence that her findings provided "extremely strong support" that the timber cross and "Jesus figure" were originally from the same crucifix unit rather than not. This, Mr O'Kelly SC said in his closing speech, was a "clear scientific connection" between Rowe and the deceased.

Addressing the 12 jurors, defence counsel Kathleen Leader SC said the jury was dealing with "the killing of an elderly lady" and in order to convict her client, they must be "absolutely sure" that he had intended to kill Ms Butler.

Ms Leader suggested to the jury that there was another conclusion open to them on the evidence, which was that Mr Rowe was guilty of manslaughter. She submitted that the evidence in the case supported the conclusion that intoxication prevented him from forming intent.

Rowe told gardai in his interviews that he had taken "40 D5's" [Diazepam] and drank all day before the incident on Maudlin Street.

Mr O'Kelly asked the jury to consider what it took to shove the cardboard down the pensioner's throat. This, he submitted, was "so far away from being accidental" and was instead a "deliberate" act.

"Anyone who inflicted those injuries could have no intent other than to cause death or serious injury. It is the only rational conclusion," he said.

Mr O'Kelly also said that Mr Rowe was "cute and calculated enough" to make the anonymous calls on borrowed phones and then make sure he had deleted those calls from the handsets. "This is no man on some angry rant, this is calculation. This man does not want to be traced," he stated.

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