Paul Neilan and Alison O'Riordan
Body-cam footage captured the moment a 48-year-old man used a claw hammer to beat his younger brother to death at their family home in north Dublin having “just snapped” after years of a “strange relationship” between the pair, the Central Criminal Court has heard.
State prosecutors told the court that this was a “tragic” case and that the attacker, Gary Murtagh, had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
The court was told that Murtagh and his brother, Paul, lived alone at the house and had communicated by notes to avoid each other.
When a full lockdown was announced due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Gary Murtagh was “lost” without being able to work or go to the gym and the two brothers ended up at “close quarters” in the house, the court was told.
The accused, of Broadstone in Dublin 7, was jailed on Monday for life after pleading guilty last week to the murder of Paul Murtagh (42) at their family home at Auburn Street, Phibsborough, Dublin 7, on November 6th, 2020.
His two sisters and brothers described a “living nightmare” beginning on the day they heard of the “devastating” news of the death of Paul.
On Monday, John O’Kelly SC, prosecuting, said over 50 claw hammer injuries had been inflicted on Paul Murtagh, who was found under a jacket on the sofa of the family home after gardaí received a call about the incident at Auburn Street at around 2pm the same day.
Detective Inspector Aidan Flanagan of Mountjoy Garda station said when gardaí attended the house there was blood spatter on the walls and ceiling and a pool of blood on the floor next to Paul’s body.
Det Insp Flanagan said there was footage of the attack as Paul Murtagh wore a body camera that indicated Gary Murtagh to be the attacker.
Det Insp Flanagan told Mr O’Kelly that Gary Murtagh attended Store Street Garda station voluntarily later that day at around 2pm and admitted the attack.
In interview, Gary Murtagh said he was seen on the body camera footage and that he used the claw hammer to attack his brother. He told interviewers that he came out of his bedroom and started hitting his brother with the claw hammer.
Gary Murtagh told interviewers that he and his brother always had a “strange relationship” and that on the day he “just snapped, thinking about everything over the years”.
“I didn’t think he’d be dead. I’m sorry. That’s all I have to say,” he told Det Insp Flanagan when interviewed.
Mr O’Kelly said the cause of death was repeated blows to the body, adding the deceased suffered 16 blows to the head alone.
Det Inps Flanagan said Gary Murtagh had one previous conviction from Belfast Crown Court for grievous bodily harm and a minor conviction in the Republic.
The detective said the brothers had a “very poor” relationship and that gardaí were called to the address the evening before the attack for a separate incident.
Det Insp Flanagan read a victim impact statement to the court on behalf of siblings, Jane, Cora and Shane, who said their “lives changed forever” due to Paul’s “tragic” death.
The family said they would pray “day and night” to their deceased parents for strength. They said they spoke to Gary on the phone after he was remanded in custody, adding he was “full of remorse” and apologised “profusely” to them for an act that “cannot be undone”.
His remorse and regret, they said, was a “life sentence in itself”.
The siblings said they were “petrified” of losing Gary, who was a “caring, kind-hearted and hardworking person” who never intended murder and who could not have been in a right frame of mind on the day.
Fiona Murphy SC, defending, said it was a “tragic” case and that Gary Murtagh had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Ms Murphy said that since 2016 the two brothers lived alone at the house, which used to be the family home, and that they communicated by notes to avoid each other.
She said that when full lockdown was announced due to Covid, Gary Murtagh was “lost” without being able to work or go to the gym and that the two brothers ended up at “close quarters” in the house.
Ms Murphy said the relationship became more and more fraught and that Gary Muragh told gardaí: “I just snapped.”
Det Insp agreed with Ms Murphy when she said the house had become dishevelled and that Paul hoarded a “huge amount” of camera footage of regular life.
Ms Murphy said Gary Murtagh had contacted a third party to alert gardaí to the body in the house and that his “heartbroken” family stood by him. She said Gary Murtagh was “genuinely remorseful”, adding that it was a “horrible set of circumstances”.
Mr Justice Paul McDermott said it was important to hear from the victims through their statement read out by Det Insp Flanagan.
Mr Justice McDermott said he had no choice but to impose the mandatory life sentence and backdated it to August 27th, 2021, when Gary Murtagh was taken into custody.
When originally arraigned before the Central Criminal Court on Monday last week, Murtagh had pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to his manslaughter at that address.
The plea was not accepted by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and Mr Justice Paul McDermott swore in a jury to hear the trial.
However, on Wednesday, Ms Murphy said Murtagh could be re-arraigned in the presence of the jury, where he then pleaded guilty to the charge of murdering his brother.