herald

Saturday 16 December 2017

'Little Mari was so badly burnt I couldn't see her'

DEATH trial: Mum recalls horrific attack

A GRIEF-stricken mother described how her five-year-old daughter was so badly burned in an arson attack that she could not even see her body.

"I never got to say goodbye or touch her face or give her one final kiss," Teresa Keane told a court yesterday.

Little Mari Keane Connolly died in an arson attack at the home of her dad, Richard Connolly, at Termon Road, in Boyle, Co Roscommon, on October 3 of last year. The little girl was so badly burned that she had to be identified through a DNA sample taken from her mum.

In an emotional victim impact statement to the court, Teresa said she will never forgive her daughter's killer.







Desperate

She told how Mari had been delighted at the birth of her twin sisters Ava and Layla just two days before the fire.

"She wanted to hold the babies but I said they were too small and that she could when they were older, I will always regret that," she said.

The court also heard how Richard Connolly had made desperate attempts to save his three daughters who were in the house at the time.

He was left paralysed after he broke his back trying to get the girls to safety. He can now only walk with the aid of a crutch and wears splints on his legs.

His two older daughters, Naomi and Lauren, jumped from the burning house but little Mari did not, and died in the fire. Richard told the court how Lauren and Naomi struggle to sleep at night and Mari's younger sister Caitlin cries often looking for her dead sister.

John Lynch (33), originally from Sligo but with an address at Church View, Boyle, pleaded guilty to manslaughter, arson and causing serious harm to Mr Connolly.

Evidence was given about how Lynch had known Mari and had on occasion babysat her with his girlfriend Anita O'Hara.

He had set the fire at the Connolly family home in a jealous rage following a night of taking cocaine and drinking with Ms O'Hara. The attack was motivated by an incident the previous August where he found his fully clothed girlfriend in bed with Mari's uncle, John Connolly. On the night of the fire he had hit John Connolly with a bottle and later beat his girlfriend with a metal curtain pole, breaking her jaw.







Shame

He had then set fire to the Connolly home whereRichard and his three daughters were asleep inside.

Lynch later rang Ms O'Hara telling her: "Now you c**t. Precious John Boy's house is burning. The rats in Termon will have nowhere to live."

In a written apology read to the court, the accused said the "shame, shock and devastation" of what he had caused had been "unbearable to face. I'm truly sorry Teresa, I swear to God I didn't know they were there".

Lynch has 17 previous convictions including two assaults, one stabbing, burglary and possession of a firearm. He had served a number of years in Castlerea and was only released in November 2009.

Emotions ran high outside the courthouse yesterday with the group shouting abuse at the accused as he was led into court.

Judge Tony Hunt adjourned sentencing until Tuesday.

csheehy@herald.ie

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