Man awaits sentencing for murder of mum Joleen (27)

Man awaits sentencing for murder of mum Joleen (27)

24 June 2020

A MAN who caused the mother of his son to fall down stairs when he struck her and left her to die, will learn next week how long he will spend in prison.

During a remote hearing of Downpatrick Crown Court last Friday, Judge Geoffrey Millar said he hoped to fix the minimum life tariff next Thursday on Michael O’Connor for the murder of Joleen Corr who was living in Downpatrick at the time of the attack.

O’Connor — initially charged with manslaughter over the death of the 27 year-old — pleaded guilty on the first day of his murder trial in February.

Friday’s court was told that O’Connor (34) and Ms Corr had been fighting over her mobile phone on December 2, 2016, when he struck her, causing her to fall down the stairs at her home in Thomas Russell Park.

Prosecution counsel Phillip Mateer it was that fall which caused a skull fracture, described by a witness as “feeling like a broken Easter egg”, and subdural haematoma, which was the cause of death. He added that in addition to that fatal injury, her jaw had been broken and there were close to 50 bruises all over her body which he described as “black and blue”.

Ms Corr’s family attended a police station so they could listen and watch the conference call hearing and while Judge Geoffrey Miller QC praised their “very real dignity”, he reminded those taking part that despite the unusual procedure “it is still a court of law”.

The family listened intently as Mr Mateer outlined that as the mother-of-one lay stricken in her bed having been knocked down the stairs, O’Connor took a bath before taking their two year-old son on a bus to Belfast “because he had things to do”.

The argument, which started when Ms Corr’s ex-boyfriend accidentally telephoned her, had occurred the night before but O’Connor did not alert anyone until 12.30pm, calling a neighbour to ask him to check on her, claiming Ms Corr had called him because “she had taken a load of tablets”.

Mr Mateer said the neighbour went in to help but on seeing the state the young woman was in, called O’Connor and asked him: “What did you do to her?” O’Connor replied: “I done nothing to her — she tried to hang herself last night.”

Mr Mateer said O’Connor’s claims could be dismissed by the established scientific and medical evidence as there were no drugs in Ms Corr’s system, no ligature marks and, due to the severity of her brain injury, “she could not have possibly phoned the defendant”.

He said that when Ms Corr arrived at hospital, her injuries were so serious that neurosurgeons made the initial decision that “medical intervention would not have been in her best interests at that time”. They later reversed their decision and a procedure was carried out to treat the swelling of her brain.

With his former partner lying in hospital in a vegetative state, O’Connor, originally from Westrock Grove in Belfast, but whose address is given as c/o Maghaberry prison, was charged with inflicting grievous bodily harm with intent but following a landmark ruling in 2018 doctors withdrew treatment and Ms Corr tragically died days later on April 28.

Mr Mateer told Judge Miller the guilty plea was accepted on the basis that O’Connor had struck Ms Corr once, causing her to fall down the stairs and that in striking her he did not intend to kill her but did intend to cause her GBH.

He said while O’Connor claimed he only struck once, Ms Corr had sustained a “multiplicity” of bruises and a fractured jaw in addition to the fatal skull fracture, injuries which experts considered were akin to those expected in a car crash “or high impact incident”,  and added that he conceded that the Crown “are not in a position to challenge that by objective evidence”.

Defence counsel Charles Maccreanor, submitted that the medical evidence in the case supported O’Connor’s claims that it was one strike “rather than an assault over a sustained period”.

He argued that while the court “could never be satisfied” that it was more than a single blow which caused the victim to fall down the stairs, he conceded it was that fall which caused the fatal injury and O’Connor “is directly responsible for that”.

“He is fully responsible...and he lives with the shame and disgust of his behaviour, that never leaves him,” added Mr MacCreanor.

Adjourning fixing the minimum tariff O’Connor must serve before he can even be considered for release under licence, Judge Miller said “something that I cannot lose sight of” was the fact a young child had been in the house at the time during all that happened.