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Tuesday 12 November 2019

The young wife battered to death with a brick after giving a stranger a lift

It was the callous murder of an innocent newlywed who only wanted to help. Now killer Sean Courtney is aiming to get out of prison to see his young child. Jane Last revisits the 1991 crime

IT WAS a murder which shocked the nation. The naked, battered body of newlywed Patricia O'Toole was found in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains near Rathfarnham, sparking a massive murder investigation.

The body of Patricia (31), who was from the city's northside but living in Killiney with her husband of one year, was found by a man cycling to work on the morning of September 1, 1991, on Mount Venus Road.

She was dumped in a ditch -- with a Russian wedding band on her right finger as well as a wedding ring. These both helped identify her.

A pair of shorts and a sleeveless top were found nearby. Also found was the murder weapon -- a heavy rock which was used to bludgeon her into submission.

The brutal killing left the country reeling -- a beautiful woman with a bright future ahead of her coldly cut down in the prime of her life for no apparent reason.

A large gathering attended her funeral Mass days later, offering their sympathies to Patricia's husband Brian O'Toole, father Paddy Madden, her sister Anne Scannell and other family members.

What was most shocking was the randomness of Patricia's murder. She had met her attacker, Private Sean Courtney, that night, after asking him for directions as she drove home following a night out with friends.



GOLFERS



Gardai launched an extensive investigation. It was led by Supt Pat King of Tallaght Garda Station. A post-mortem examination showed that Patricia fought her attacker to the end and had not been subjected to a sexual assault.

Gardai issued pictures of Patricia to piece together her final movements. Detectives established that Patricia was last seen on Saturday, at 1.35am, as she left two friends at the Pronto Restaurant in Ranelagh to walk 200 yards to where her car was parked.

On Friday evening, August 31, she had socialised with work colleagues for a leaving do.

Later she enjoyed a meal with a married couple in the restaurant. Once outside, she declined their offer to walk her to her car because it was so close. They last saw her walk through the triangle in Ranelagh village.

Less than five hours later, her naked and battered body was found in Rathfarnham.

The following day, her white Peugeot car was discovered on Dolphin Road, near Suir Bridge in Drimnagh. Traces of blood were on the seat and her shoes and handbag were in the car.

Gardai soon established that nothing had been taken from the bag. Further tests were conducted to see if she had been attacked in the car.

Detectives now had to find out what exactly happened in that five-hour period.

Outgoing Patricia was the sort of person who would offer a lift to "vague" acquaintances without thinking twice about it.

Detectives followed this line and it was discovered that Patricia was attacked in her car before being dragged out on Mount Venus Road in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains.

In what must have been a terrifying struggle for the young woman, it continued on the gravel-covered roadside before her killer picked up a large stone and smashed in the right side of her head in a final frenzied attack.

He then drove away from the scene in Patricia's car -- leaving her naked body dumped in a ditch. He eventually abandoned his victim's car by the Grand Canal in Drimnagh.

When the car was found, the passenger door was unlocked and her handbag left in the car. There had been no effort to move it since its abandonment.

Private Sean Courtney was arrested and he pleaded not guilty to the murder of Patricia.

The trial took place in the Central Criminal Court in January 1993 and attracted huge public interest. He was a recently separated father-of-two who was with his girlfriend before he met and subsequently murdered Patricia O'Toole.

Pte Courtney, then aged 26, took to the stand and wept uncontrollably when giving his account of what happened.

Courtney told his defence counsel, Paddy McEntee, that he and his girlfriend, Rosaleen Holland, had been making their way home in the early hours of August 31, 1991, after attending a disco where he had consumed up to 13 pints of lager.

The couple were standing near Hylands shop in Inchicore when he noticed a white car had stopped a few feet away. Courtney told the court that the woman driver had asked for directions to Connolly Avenue in Inchicore.



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His girlfriend didn't know where the road was but Courtney did and told the woman how to get there. The woman said she didn't understand the directions and asked if they could show her where it was.

"I told her we had a hard night, we were drinking and had gone to a party and the two of us were tired," Courtney told the court. His girlfriend urged him to come along and Courtney claimed he told Patricia he would show her where the road was if she dropped his girlfriend to their flat and dropped him home after he showed her the way.

After they dropped off his girlfriend, Courtney directed the woman to Connolly Avenue. He told the court the atmosphere between them was good and she quizzed him about his work and relationship.

Courtney then told the court that for no reason at all, she stopped the car at the junction to Connolly Avenue and told him she could get him "done" for attacking her and it would be her word against his. Courtney said this affected him as an Army colleague had been accused of something similar by a woman and he didn't believe him to be guilty.

He said he was in shock and started hitting Patricia.

He told the court he hit her several times very hard and she slumped against the steering wheel. He claimed he moved her into the passenger seat and got into the driver's seat and he panicked.

Shortly afterwards, Patricia regained consciousness and started screaming.

She kept screaming as the car stopped outside a gateway, he said. They started fighting and she fell through the passenger door. She fell on her back and started moving backwards. Courtney claimed she was still screaming. "I didn't know what to do. I panicked," he said.

When asked what he did do, Courtney gulped and told the court he picked up a rock and hit her. At this point, he burst into tears and wept loudly.

"I just kept hitting her with the rock. I just went into a rage," he said. He claimed he didn't know how many times he hit her. He also claimed that she had told him, in a weak voice: "Don't ruin your life."

After that he dropped the rock, and noticed she had stopped breathing.

He thought about putting the body in the boot of the car, but said he decided to remove her clothing to make it look as if she had been attacked. Courtney threw her clothes into a field, got into her car and drove. He left the car at Dolphin Road and then walked away -- but noticed he was covered in her blood.

He stopped at a bridge to wash the blood off his hands.

The soldier returned to his flat, but realised he had no keys to get in. He was eventually let in by his partner, took off his blood-stained clothes and rolled them at the foot of their bed.

He got into bed and tried to put his arms around his girlfriend. "I just wanted to hold someone. I felt terrible," he said.

The day after Patricia's body was discovered, he played a football match, the court was told. Courtney put his actions down to his days serving in the Irish Army in the Lebanon. He claimed his experience there had led to his actions, and he was guilty of killing Patricia O'Toole but insane.

The jury rejected this and found him guilty of murder with a verdict of 10-2.

When the verdict was announced following five hours and 46 minutes of jury deliberations, Mr Justice Kevin Lynch ordered part of the gallery cleared when screams and cheers greeted the verdict.

Defence counsel Mr McEntee immediately lodged an appeal. At a later hearing, leave for an appeal was not granted to Courtney. His appeal was subsequently dismissed.



'tramp'



Courtney's family gripped each other in disbelief following the verdict. While some people were expelled from the courtroom, Paddy Madden and Anne Scanlon, the victim's father and sister, remained for the sentencing of Courtney.

It later emerged that Courtney loudly declared after his conviction that Patricia was "only a f****** tramp".

Mr Madden later reflected that no justice could be done since his daughter "did nothing and now she's dead".

Ms Scanlon, in an emotive scene outside the courtroom, declared: "I am delighted with the verdict of murder. He will only serve about 10 years, whereas I would love to have the satisfaction of watching the Irish Army taking him out and shooting him... because that is what he deserves."

In a later interview, Anne said of Courtney: "I was shocked and horrifed to think that this 25-year-old man, a total stranger, had interloped his way into our lives."

In the same interview, Paddy Madden stated his belief that Courtney had wanted to chat up his daughter when the soldier got into her car to give her directions.

But Courtney had assaulted her and driven her to the Dublin Mountains. "The only way he could shut her up was to kill her -- which he proceeded to do in the most dastardly manner possible, kneeling on her chest and using his two hands on a brick to smash her head," he said.

"Eighteen months after assaulting her and killing her, he further assaulted her verbally -- which shows the contrition he had for his deed: None."

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