Family members of murdered Kilkenny grandmother receive prison sentences totalling eight-and-a-half years

Alison O'Riordan

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Alison O'Riordan

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news@kilkennypeople.ie

Court

Family members of Patricia O'Connor, who helped cover up the grandmother's "grotesque" murder and dismemberment, have received prison sentences totalling eight-and-a-half years at the Central Criminal Court. .

Passing sentence today, Mr Justice Paul McDermott said the charges against all four defendants were “simply appalling”. He described the reaction and response of those who were present at the house on the evening of Mrs O’Connor’s death, which formed the basis of the prosecution case against three of the four accused, as “dreadful”.

The judge said Mrs O’Connor (61), a mother, grandmother and wife had been murdered in her Rathfarnham home and her body had been disposed of within a very short period of time. He emphasised that no effort had been made to obtain garda assistance nor call the emergency services. “The efforts to conceal the crime became in a very short time quite elaborate and even more elaborate as time went on” he added.

Furthermore, Mr Justice McDermott said Mrs O'Connor, whose dismembered remains were found scattered at nine different locations in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains, had been discovered by “unsuspecting members of the public” on a day out in “horrific circumstances”. The judge pointed out that the object of the exercise to dismember Mrs O’Connor was to ensure that her body was never found and the crime never detected or prosecuted and this was a most “shocking aspect” of the case.

The nature which Mrs O’Connor’s death had on her immediate family, her son Richard O'Connor and her friends has been “devastating and heart-breaking" for them, he said. He highlighted that the deceased had worked hard all her life for her family and was set to enjoy her retirement if that had been made available to her.

 The deceased's daughter Louise O'Connor (41), her granddaughter Stephanie O'Connor (22) and Stephanie's father Keith Johnston (43) were each found guilty in February of impeding the apprehension or prosecution of Louise's former partner Kieran Greene, knowing or believing him to have murdered Mrs O'Connor on May 29, 2017.

Patricia's husband Augustine 'Gus' O’Connor (76) was originally part of the trial but shortly before it began in January, he pleaded guilty to reporting his wife as a missing person to gardai at Rathfarnham Garda Station, Dublin 14 on June 1, 2017, knowing she was already dead. 

The seven-week trial heard that the body of Mrs O’Connor was dismembered into 15 separate parts that were found at nine different locations over a 30km range in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains between June 10 and 14, 2017.

Former Deputy State Pathologist, Dr Michael Curtis, gave evidence in the trial that Mrs O'Connor's head was struck a minimum of three blows with a solid implement and the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.

Mr Justice McDermott today sentenced Augustine O'Connor to 18 months in prison and said his actions in later reporting her as a missing person knowing she had been murdered was a betrayal to both his wife and their son. The judge noted that Gus’ reaction to this appalling crime was “in itself appalling” and he had behaved disgracefully. “He declined to give her all the decency and respect she was due as a person in life,” he said.

The judge then jailed Stephanie O'Connor for one-and-a-half years in prison and her mother Louise O'Connor to two-and-a-half years while Keith Johnston, who is father to two of Louise's five children including Stephanie O'Connor, was sentenced to three years.

Father-of-three Kieran Greene (35) was sentenced to life in prison on Monday for murdering the retired grandmother having been found guilty by a jury of inflicting "catastrophic injuries" on Mrs O'Connor in a sustained attack in the bathroom of her Rathfarnham home. 

Referring to Louise O'Connor, who agreed to "a ruse" in which her daughter Stephanie had disguised herself as her grandmother, the judge said she bore substantial culpability and a greater role in the case than her daughter due to her dominant role in the household.

Sentencing Stephanie O'Connor, who disguised herself as her dead grandmother in order to conceal her murder, Mr Justice McDermott said he did not accept that she has told the full truth about her involvement in the matter but bore a lesser responsibility for the offence than her mother. She was likely not to be the originator or to have come up with the idea for “the pretence” but she had committed a serious offence, he said.

Referring to the two women, the judge said no attempt had been made to help or assist Mrs O’Connor, who was their mother and grandmother. “Their reaction as to what was done to her and what followed was shocking and callous and compounded by the connection between all involved,” he stressed.

The judge said Keith Johnston, a "trusted member" of Mrs O'Connor's extended family who helped her murderer buy DIY tools which he knew were to be used in the dismemberment of the grandmother's remains, took part in a “grotesque idea” and it was clear that he intended that the deceased’s remains were never to be found. His actions were a callous disregard and total disrespect for Mrs O’Connor, he said. 

Last February, mother-of-five Louise O'Connor, of Millmount Court, Dundrum Road, Dublin 14 was found guilty of agreeing to or acquiescing in her daughter Stephanie O'Connor disguising herself as Patricia O'Connor at Mountainview Park, Rathfarnham, Dublin 14 on May 29, 2017 in order to conceal the fact that Patricia O'Connor was dead.

Stephanie O'Connor also of Millmount Court, Dundrum Road, Dublin 14 was found guilty of disguising herself as Patricia O'Connor at Mountainview Park, Rathfarnham, Dublin 14 at a point in time after her murder on May 29, 2017 in order to conceal the fact that she was already dead.

Johnston of Avonbeg Gardens, Tallaght, Dublin 24 was found guilty of assisting Greene in the purchase of various implements at Woodie's, Mr Price, B&Q and Shoe Zone, Tallaght, Dublin 24 on June 9, 2017, which were to be used in the concealment of the remains of Mrs O'Connor. 

Greene had pleaded not guilty to murdering the retired hospital worker at her home in Mountainview Park, Rathfarnham, Dublin 14 on May 29 2017. The jury accepted the prosecution's case that Greene bludgeoned the retired hospital worker to death with a hurley and that his claim of self-defence "did not hold any water". They rejected Greene's claim that Mrs O'Connor's husband, Augustine 'Gus' O'Connor, had killed his wife using a crowbar and he [Greene] had taken the blame. 

Greene had given two accounts of Mrs O'Connor's death. In an interview with gardai in June 2017, Greene said he was in the bathroom when Mrs O’Connor attacked him with a hurley.

He maintained that he had disarmed Mrs O'Connor and acted in self-defence by hitting her with a hurley and as a result of that she may have died. He claimed he was the only one involved in the physical altercation and had acted alone in removing her body from the house, burying her in a shallow grave in Co Wexford and subsequently dismembering her.

The trial heard that six months after he was charged with her murder, Greene changed his account of killing and dismembering his partner's mother. While on remand in Cloverhill Prison in December 2017, Greene told gardai that he had taken “the rap” and felt he was being set-up, as his girlfriend Louise O'Connor subsequently started going back out with her ex-boyfriend Keith Johnston.

In his December interview Greene claimed that, although there was an altercation, he was not responsible for Mrs O'Connor's death, that her husband Augustine 'Gus' O'Connor had killed her with a crowbar and that other family members had been involved.

AUGUSTINE ‘GUS’ O'CONNOR:

Mr Justice Paul McDermott said Mrs O’Connor was Augustine’s wife and mother of his two children and his reaction to this “appalling crime” was “in itself appalling”. 

He had not demonstrated much interest for his wife at the time and had behaved disgracefully, said the judge. “He betrayed his wife and declined to give her all the appropriate decency and respect she was due as a person in life,” said the judge, adding that he did not accept that the offence was at the lower end of culpability and was instead a mid range offence and deserved an appropriate penalty.

Outlining the couple’s history, the judge said they had been married since 1973 and had two children together. They drifted apart in the 1980’s when Mrs O’Connor left the home for a period of time until she later returned. The aggravating features of the offence included that Augustine was aware that his wife was dead and had been killed by Greene at the time he made a false report to gardai. “It is appalling that his suggestion that gardai be called to the house was rejected and he simply did nothing about it,” said the judge. 

Mr Justice McDermott said he was satisfied that Augustine knew his wife’s body was removed from the house prior to making his false report to gardai and had led his son to believe that Mrs O’Connor had left the house in anger on the night of May 29, 2017. The judge said “this deception” had the effect that it supported the “false narrative” that Mrs O’Connor was a missing person and had been calculated to do so. “His behaviour was a gross act of betrayal to his wife, son and his family,” said the judge.

Mr Justice McDermott said that rather than telling the truth, Augustine continued to lie by making an official missing person report to gardai and this proved successful. The story only began to unravel when Greene made admissions on June 12, he said.

The judge set a headline sentence of three years imprisonment. Mitigating factors in sentencing, Mr Justice McDermott said, were his guilty plea, his remorse and the fact he had provided his wife and children with accommodation. Although the defendant had initially lied to gardai he later cooperated with them, he said. The judge said he was satisfied that Augustine’s “bona fide remorse” and “blameless record” justified a substantial reduction in his sentence and imposed a sentence of 18 months imprisonment.

Micheal P O'Higgins SC, for Augustine O'Connor, asked the judge to consider suspending the sentence on account of the fact that he was four years off his 80th birthday. The judge refused this.

LOUISE O'CONNOR: 

Sentencing Louise O’Connor, Mr Justice McDermott said it was not part of the prosecution case that either Louise or her daughter Stephanie had contemplated the dismemberment of Mrs O’Connor’s remains.

The judge said the “ruse” was created and relied upon to create the impression that Mrs O’Connor was a missing person in order to prevent the apprehension of Greene for her murder and avoid the consequences for her killing. “This was a real and effective help to Greene to avoid detection. It assisted him and allowed him the space to dispose of Mrs O’Connor’s remains,” he said.

The judge said Louise had maintained to gardai that her mother had left the house and that she was worried about her in order to prevent Mrs O’Connor’s murderer being detected. “It provided a cover story they were all happy to peddle,” he said. The "concocted story" was maintained even after Mrs O’Connor’s body parts were discovered, he said. 
The judge said Louise bore substantial culpability as she is Stephanie’s mother and the older of the two. She also bore a greater responsibility due to her dominant role in the household, he said. She had allowed Greene to take whatever steps he thought appropriate to avoid detection. “Even at this stage, I’m not satisfied that either of them [Louise and Stephanie] have provided a full account of what happened that night,” he said. The judge said Louise was clearly accountable and set a headline sentence of four years imprisonment.

Mitigating factors included that she was a loving mother-of-five and to deprive her children of her support and care would be a great loss to them, he said. Her three younger children had already lost a father who had been imprisoned for life and the entire family were now in a state of disunity, he said. The judge imposed a sentence of three years imprisonment with the final six months suspended. 

STEPHANIE O'CONNOR: 

Mr Justice McDermott said that Stephanie must have known her grandmother was killed by Greene at the time she adopted the disguise. He said Stephanie bore a lesser responsibility for the offence than her mother. “She was a very young girl required to respond to the exigencies by Greene,” he outlined. 

He set the headline sentence at three years imprisonment and her mitigating factors included her remorse and the fact she was at a low risk of re offending. He imposed a sentence of two years imprisonment with the final six months suspended. 

KEITH JOHNSTON: 

The judge said that Johnston’s assistance in the purchase of tools was a “grotesque idea” and it was clear that he intended Mrs O’Connor’s remains never to be found or to be more difficult to identify if found. “He had a callous disregard and total disrespect for Mrs O’Connor and he demonstrated a willingness to contemplate and assist in acts for the desecration of her remains in the most horrible way to prevent detection,” he noted. He said the deceased’s remains had never been granted a respectful burial. The judge said the purchase of the tools was carried out without hesitation after Johnston was made aware that Greene had killed Mrs O’Connor and had an "underlying evil purpose". Whilst Greene had taken the most “extreme steps imaginable", Johnston had assisted him in doing that, he concluded. In mitigation, he noted that Johnston had been a hard working man all his life as well as a dutiful and attentive parent. He sentenced him to three years imprisonment.