Graham Dwyer will be sentenced to life in prison next month

CourtsBy Natasha Reid
Graham Dwyer
Graham Dwyer

Architect Graham Dwyer will be sentenced to life in prison next month, after being found guilty of murdering Dubliner Elaine O’Hara by stabbing her for his sexual gratification in the Dublin Mountains.

The 42-year-old was on trial at the Central Criminal Court for more than two months, charged with her murder on August 22nd2012, hours after she was discharged from a mental health hospital.

The Cork-born father of three of Kerrymout Close, Foxrock, Dublin had pleaded not guilty to murdering the 36-year-old childcare worker at Killakee, Rathfarnham.

However, the jury was satisfied that he lured her up the mountain that evening to stab her in pursuit of sexual gratification before disposing of her belongings to make it look like suicide.

He had arranged for her to leave her car at the coastal graveyard where her mother was buried in Shanganagh, South Dublin. His plan almost worked and, in the words of the prosecutor, it was ‘very nearly the perfect murder’.

The trial heard that the accused and deceased had been in a sexual relationship involving stabbing, on and off from late 2007. They had rekindled this relationship in 2011 and had arranged to meet on the evening Ms O’Hara disappeared.

She was last seen at Shanganagh Park shortly before 6pm on Wednesday, August 22nd 2012. She had asked a jogger for directions to a railway bridge and he later saw her crossing the footbridge towards the seafront.

A dog uncovered her skeletal remains in the mountains at Killakee on Dwyer’s 41st birthday, Friday 13th September 2013. It was three days after her keys had been found in the almost-dry Vartry Reservoir in Roundwood, Co. Wicklow.

During the nine-week trial, the jury of five women and seven men heard from almost 200 witnesses and saw more than 300 exhibits.

These included a number of videos of Dwyer stabbing Ms O’Hara and two other women during separate sex acts, and stories he wrote on his computer in which he described himself raping and killing women in graphic detail.

The documents and videos were read and shown on three consecutive days. On each occasion, Mr Justice Tony Hunt had taken the unusual step of excluding from court members of the public, who attended the trial in large numbers.

He did this under legislation that allows for the clearing of the court in any criminal proceedings for an offence which is, in the court’s opinion, of an indecent or obscene nature.

Crucial among the other exhibits were two phones and a laptop found in Ms O'Hara's home following her disappearance; she had synced her iPhone with her laptop and this meant some of her older text messages were sill available.

Other incriminating evidence included Dwyer’s DNA profile found in semen on her mattress a year later; the discovery of her remains and keys in separate counties had led to the missing-persons investigation being upgraded.

Also vital to the prosecution were two mobile phones, glasses and a backpack discovered with Ms O’Hara’s keys in the reservoir. They were found after the water level had dropped from 20 feet to less than two feet following the particularly warm summer of 2013.

They were recovered in an intensive garda search, after three local men noticed unusual items in the water while stopped on a bridge over the popular fishing spot.

The two anglers and their friend fished out a rope, handcuffs, leg restraints, bondage cuffs, a ball gag, a blindfold, a hoodie and vest.

One of the men brought them to Roundwood Garda Station and a local garda decided to investigate.

The garda returned to the spot a few times over the following days and waded through the mud. He became suspicious after subsequently finding more sex toys, a knife, an inhaler, and a set of keys containing supermarket loyalty cards in Ms O’Hara’s name.

The keys were later found to be the keys to Ms O’Hara’s car and home and the glasses matched both her prescription and frames she had purchased.

Elaine O'Hara's car

The backpack was connected to Dwyer; CCTV captured him leaving Ms O’Hara’s home with it just a week before her disappearance. The bag was never captured returning to the building.

All of the mud-stained items were exhibited in court.

Of less importance was a spade found near the remains. Dwyer’s wife testified that it was the spade missing from their garden, identifying it from splashes of paint Dwyer had got on it when painting their fence. However a forensic scientist said the paint on the spade did not match that on the fence.

Specialist gardai managed to extract data from Ms O'Hara's two phones and laptop, as well as from the phones that had spent a year submerged deep under water.

Despite the two reservoir phones being unregistered, the State managed to convince the jury that they had been purchased by Dwyer and used by him and Ms O'Hara. Each was the only phone number stored in the other’s handset and they were saved as MSTR and SLV; they were known throughout the trial as the Master and Slave phones.

The prosecution also proved that another phone number with which the deceased had been communicating belonged to Dwyer. The handset for this number was never recovered.

However, it had been registered, albeit in a fake name; Dwyer had corrupted the name of an acquaintance from Gordon Chisholm into Goroon Caisholm. He had also registered it to what he thought was his sister’s address, and had used his real number as the alternative contact, changing only one digit of the prefix.

The content of the messages recovered showed that Dwyer and Ms O’Hara had a sexual relationship, an unusual central feature of which involved the accused stabbing her. It was a BDSM-style relationship in which he was the dominant party and she the submissive. He called her Slave and she called him Master.

The prosecution said this and the content of the messages reflected ‘a deep-seated, passionately-held, irrepressible desire on the part of Graham Dwyer to get sexual gratification by stabbing’. The phone evidence satisfied the jury that Dwyer arranged to meet his victim at Shanganagh that Wednesday evening to take her up the mountain to kill her in satisfaction of that desire.

The texts told the story of their relationship but also revealed her killer’s identity.

One of the messages that led detectives to suspect Dwyer was a text sent in March 2011 in which he named the baby girl, who had just been born to him and his wife. Another crucial message mentioned his flying hobby and recent pay cut.

“Terrible. 15% pay cut and came fifth in flying,” read the text about his weekend sent to Ms O’Hara in June 2011.

A trawl through the cell sites used by the phones led gardai to examine toll records from roads across the country. They were looking for a car registered to a man living in south Dublin and working in Dublin 2.

They found that the Master phone moved around Ireland at the same time as Dwyer’s cars.

The jury heard that two detectives confirmed their suspicions when they took items from the Dwyer family’s bins one night. They matched DNA from a container of turtle wax with the DNA from the semen on the victim’s punctured and bloodstained mattress.

However, this evidence was not used in court and was not known to the arresting garda, who had enough grounds to arrest Dwyer.

He was arrested at his home on the morning of October 17th, 2013 and gardai searched both his house and his workplace on Baggot Street, where he was a partner in architecture firm A&D Wejchert.

What was found on electronic devices in his home shocked even the judge in the trial. Among the family videos and photographs, including baby scans, were numerous videos and photographs of women being stabbed and mutilated. There were also documents he had written about carrying out sex crimes and murder.

Dwyer denied killing Ms O’Hara during his garda interviews. He eventually admitted being in a relationship with her but said it was Ms O’Hara and not him, who was interested stabbing.

The videos and text messages told the truth, however. At the end of a video in which he stabbed Ms O’Hara during sex, he could be heard saying: “Now, that wasn’t bad, was it?”

Once the jury was satisfied that the phones were Dwyer’s, it was in the content of the text messages where the main evidence against him lay.

The messages displayed a relationship between a controlling, dominant man and a vulnerable, submissive woman. The earliest text messages found dated from March 2011, when Dwyer got back in touch with Ms O’Hara after an unknown period of time.

Once she realised who was texting her, she informed him that she was no longer into blood and stabbing. He spent the following year and a half trying to change her mind.

He also asked her if she was still suicidal in those early text messages, a question he continued to ask her until he murdered her. He frequently offered to end her life for her, but she said she wanted to live.

There were occasions when Dwyer seemed to get the message that she did not want to be stabbed and did not want to die. On those occasions, he told her she would have to help him find another woman to stab.

He identified an auctioneer, who worked across the street from his office, and outlined a detailed plan to kill her at a house she was showing. Ms O’Hara refused.

She tried to end the relationship at one stage, telling him she didn’t want to be his bit on the side anymore. She wanted a relationship and to have a child. He offered to father her child if she helped find someone for him to stab.

“A life for a life,” he said.

When she declined, he offered her money. When she refused, he insulted her appearance and told her she would never find anyone else.

He had purchased what he thought were two untraceable phones for them in November 2011. They had saved only each other’s new numbers into the phones as SLV and MSTR. She was the slave and he was the master.

The two Nokias survived 13 months under water and provided the gardai with a detailed picture of the last week of their relationship.

This was also Ms O’Hara’s last week of a five-and-a half-week stay in St Edmundsbury Mental Health Hospital in Lucan. She had asked to be admitted, telling staff that she had made a noose to hang herself.

During her stay, Dwyer sent her constant messages. He told her he would punish her for trying to kill herself without him and for being unavailable to him for so long.

He told her this punishment would come on the Wednesday night of her release. He told her it would be outdoors. He said he would stab her in the guts and that it would be like he was doing someone for real.

He also asked her if anyone knew about him. She assured him that nobody did.

“That’s good. No-one should know about me,” he wrote. 

He told her to bring only her Slave phone and keys with her when meeting him in Shanganagh that evening and, specifically, to leave her iPhone at home. She had to plead with him a couple of times before he eventually allowed her to bring her inhaler.

The last sent messages he sent her were directions to their meeting place.

“Go down to shore and wait,” was the final text he sent her at 6pm. Neither phone was used again.

Apart from the text messages, a number of witnesses connected Ms O’Hara to a man matching Dwyer’s description.

She had told her father that she was in a relationship with a married architect living in Foxrock, who used to tie her up. She had told a friend that she allowed an architect she met online to cut her.

On the night before she was discharged from hospital, an upset Ms O’Hara told a nurse about a man who had a key to her apartment and kept calling there. The nurse suggested she go to the gardai if he was harassing her, but Ms O’Hara said she wouldn’t as he had young children.

A dramatic afternoon of evidence was provided by a young American woman, who had met the accused on the internet. Darci Day testified that she had been suicidal and he offered her ‘a solution’. She said he had told her he wanted to kill Ms O’Hara if she wanted, and then go after Ms Day.

A document called Killing Darci found on his hard drive described her flying to Ireland, being met by Dwyer at the airport and being taken to a cabin.

There he described raping and stabbing her to death in graphic detail. He also described having sex with her corpse afterwards. This was one of the documents for which the public was excluded from court.

In another document, Jenny’s First Rape, he described travelling to Newcastle and abducting a young woman from a bookshop, taking her to his hotel at knife point and violently raping her.

He also described almost strangling her and then threatening her with a knife, at which point he said the fun was only beginning. This was the second piece of evidence for which the public was excluded from court

A third document described a woman being attacked and raped in a Dublin Park.

The defence argued that these documents were fantasy, but the jury did not agree.

Ms O’Hara’s entire medical history was also opened to the court and this showed a lack of self worth beginning in her teenage years. She had made a few attempts at suicide over the years and she had told a friend that she got a release from allowing men to tie her up and cut her.

However, by the time she was released from hospital she was looking forward to the future, with her doctor testifying that it was the best he had seen her. She had made plans to volunteer at the Tall Ships Festival in Dublin the following day. It was when she did not turn up for this that her family became worried.

Her father had gone to check on her on the morning after her murder when she hadn’t taken a planned lift to the festival with his partner. When he saw her iPhone charging in her apartment, he presumed she had rushed out late and forgotten it.

He sent her what he described as an ironic text that night: “Are you alive?” - something he used to jokingly ask his children if they weren’t in touch.

However, he became suspicious the following morning when he noticed her phone was still there, but her car hadn’t returned. He reported her missing and searches began. Her car was found at Shanganagh and he agreed in court that the thought of suicide had crossed his mind.

The family’s Garda liaison officer testified that the family had almost accepted that she had taken her own life by the time her remains were discovered. They had just finished clearing her personal belongings out of her apartment by the autumn of 2013.

The remoteness of where her remains were found was something Dwyer had discussed in his text messages and it was something that meant nobody had spotted them. They were in an area of private forestry, where not even hikers explored.

A dog walker had permission to use the land and used to let dogs off their leads on a path through the woods. Only the dogs would venture into the area where her remains were found. It was her dog, Millie, who began bringing her bones from this area, and the alert was raised.

Her suspicions were right; the bones were human. An anthropologist estimated they had been there for a year. Only 65 percent of her skeleton was recovered and a pathologist could find no cause of death.

The defence focussed on this, and the judge told the jury it had to be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Dwyer had stabbed Ms O’Hara to death in pursuit of sexual gratification.

Following seven hours and 33 minutes of deliberations over three days, the jurors were so satisfied and reached a unanimous verdict of guilty.

Just half an hour earlier, they had returned to court to ask the judge to remind them of the ingredients of murder.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt told them that they had to be satisfied of both the state of affairs and the appropriate mental intent. He told them they had to be satisfied that Dwyer had stabbed Ms O’Hara, and that this had caused her death.

He said that, secondly, they had to be satisfied that the accused had intended to either kill her or cause serious injury.

Thereafter, he said, they had to be satisfied that the stabbing was a contribution to her death.

“It doesn’t have to be the sole contribution,” he said.

Word came from the jury room just 20 minutes later to say there was a verdict. Within three minutes, Dwyer had entered the courtroom. Large crowds had gathered by the time the judge came onto his bench a few minutes later.

He warned those gathered that, regardless of the verdict, he wanted silence in court.

The jurors took their seats just before 3.40pm and the foreman gave the issue paper to the registrar.

“Guilty,” she read aloud.

Dwyer closed his eyes momentarily, looked down and shook his head.

The judge thanked the jurors for their service in what he said was a difficult case with lots of detail. It was a circumstantial case, he added.

“As to your finding, verdicts are not my business, but, if it’s any consolation, I 110 percent agree with your verdict,” he said.

“The question of suicide wasn’t there… I don’t mind expressing my view at this time.”

He said he realised that jury service was a terrible imposition. Considering this and the nature of the material they’d heard, he exempted the 12 jurors from jury service for 30 years.

“You've done your duty in an exemplary manner,” he said.

The prosecution asked for sentencing to be adjourned for preparation of a victim impact statement.

Mr Justice Hunt remanded Dwyer in custody until April 20th, when the mandatory life sentence will be imposed.

Ms O’Hara’s family embraced each other outside the courtroom, but did not give any reaction to the dozens of reporters who had gathered. It’s expected they will return to court to see Dwyer sentenced.