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Aunt of man stabbed to death in Dublin home tells how family torn apart by killer

Norma Phillips
Norma Phillips

A Romanian family that moved to Ireland to find work was torn apart when one of them was stabbed to death during a drunken row, the deceased's aunt told the Central Criminal Court today.

Gabi Corina Tapu wrote a statement for the sentencing hearing for Norma Phillips (47), who was convicted of manslaughter last month for the killing of 36-year-old Stefan Neanu at Phillips's home on the Phibsboro Road on April 12, 2015.

Ms Phillips was charged with murder but a jury found her not guilty of murder, guilty of manslaughter.

In her statement, read to the court by Detective Garda Martin McInerney, Ms Tapu said that Stefan was her nephew and became "like my own" following his mother's death in 2005. They lived together until 2013 when he moved to Ireland to find work. About one year later she followed him to Ireland along with his sister Michaela, to start a new life.

"As a direct result of this incident I have developed depression and I am now on daily medication," she said. After Stefan's death Michaela returned to Romania as she couldn't stay in the place where her brother had died. "This has torn our family apart," she said.

She added: "I had to stay here. I needed to be close to him, to visit his grave and to see that justice is done for the pain that he suffered."

She described Stefan as a "good boy" who worked hard to provide her with everything she needed. "He made sure I wanted for nothing," she said.

She finished by thanking gardai, the judiciary and the jury.

Detective Garda McInerney told prosecution counsel Denis Vaughan Buckley SC that Mr Neanu died from a stab wound to the heart. He said Phillips and Mr Neanu had been drinking at a house party earlier that day and were both drunk when they went to Phillips's home.

There was an argument and Phillips told gardai that Stefan pulled a knife on her and she pushed his arm away in self defence, causing the wound that killed him. She realised he was badly hurt when he fell to the ground so she called 999, and said at least eight times that "someone stabbed him".

When gardai and an ambulance crew arrived she at first said she didn't want gardai in the house, and later told gardai that an Irish man knocked on her door, came into her home, stabbed Mr Neanu and then ran off.

At Mountjoy garda station gardai told her that Mr Neanu had died and she changed her story, detailing her involvement in his death.

She said: "I pushed, it was like self defence, he was holding the knife and I pushed it and said: 'Stop it Stefan'."

Phillips's barrister Sean Gillane SC told presiding judge Justice Margaret Heneghan that Phillips had a chronic alcohol problem and was living in "squalor" at the time of the killing but has since changed her life. He called on Andrea Casey of Focus Ireland who said that she has worked with Phillips since May 2016 as part of a program to get her off alcohol and into proper housing.

She said she has "exceeded" expectations in dealing with her alcohol problems and getting her life back. She said Phillips often mentions Stefan and shows remorse and "absolute upset about his death".

Mr Gillane said she is "physically and mentally a million miles from where she was." He accepted that the court would be unimpressed with the lies she told initially to gardai but asked Justice Heneghan to take into account that at that time she did not know that Mr Neanu was dying.

Asking her to be "as lenient as possible" he further pointed out that she has no previous convictions, has followed all her bail conditions and offered a plea of guilty to manslaughter early on that was rejected by the State.

Ms Phillips has spent nine months in custody but is currently on bail. Justice Heneghan remanded her on continuing bail until next Monday February 20, to give her time to consider the appropriate sentence.