NewsCourts

Parents of woman strangled by boyfriend say they'll never recover from her loss

Natalie McGuinness
Natalie McGuinness

The parents of a 23-year-old Sligo woman who was strangled to death by her boyfriend have said they will never forget what was inflicted upon their “beautiful daughter” and will never recover from her loss.

The testimony was heard as part of a victim impact statement read today to the Central Criminal Court, where Oisin Conroy (34), who was previously found not guilty of the murder of Natalie McGuinness by reason of insanity, was committed to the Central Mental Hospital.

He also caused serious lacerations to his own head with a knife and told a doctor that he had tried to "skin himself alive".

During the trial the court heard that Mr Conroy “believed he was in the Matrix” and strangled Ms McGuinness to death in order to save her. Mr Conroy told gardai there was a struggle in his mind "between the devil and Jesus" and that a voice came in his head saying he had to kill his then girlfriend Ms McGuinness.

Mr Conroy with an address at St Joseph's Terrace, Boyle, Co Roscommon was charged with murdering Natalie McGuinness at The Mews, Mail Coach Road in Sligo on October 28, 2015.

He pleaded not guilty to murdering Ms McGuinness by reason of insanity.

On July 7, after a period of 24 minutes deliberating, a jury of six men and six women returned a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

This morning, prosecution counsel Ms Tara Burns SC told the court that she had been asked to read a victim impact statement written by Natalie's mother Mrs Catherine McGuinness on behalf of both parents.  

The court heard that October 28, 2015 was the day the McGuinness’ family “lives stopped being normal.” Mrs McGuinness said they feel “emotionally battered and bruised as parents” and they can no longer live “an ordinary life.”

“A parent should never have to receive the devastating news that their child has died whatever the circumstances but we can never forget what was inflicted upon our beautiful daughter Natalie before her young sweet life came to an end,” she said.

Mrs McGuinness said their “beloved Natalie” has been taken from them "forever" and they can “no longer make sense of” their lives." “We cannot believe that we will never get to hear her voice or see her again, our hearts suffer from the deepest wounds from which they will never recover,” she said.

“Sitting in a criminal court for the first time was a very difficult task, so hard to listen to and to take in. The language barrier has reinforced our feeling of isolation. We are still in shock from the whole event,” she said.

The court heard that Natalie was born on New Year’s Day in 1992 and it was “the most precious gift” they could have hoped to receive for the start of the New Year.

Mrs McGuinness said that prior to Natalie’s birth she had lost twin girls who both died at two day’s old and a boy who died at six months old. “You can imagine our delight when Natalie was born, she made the headlines that year for all the right reasons which of course made us even prouder. New Year’s Day will never be the same for us again because it was her birthday and more importantly the start of another year without her,” she said.

Mrs McGuinness said her daughter was “a bubbly and vibrant child”. “She was a daddy’s girl and she loved reminding him that she was his favourite child. She had him wrapped around her finger and John misses that so much,” she said.

The court heard that Natalie was accepted onto a childcare course but she did not get to do this before her death. Her daughter’s greatest attribute was “her love of children” and she had a “special way of communicating with them", she said. 

“Natalie now has a niece who was six weeks old when she passed and a nephew who never had the privilege of meeting his auntie Nat-Nat. The love and attention she would have showered on her niece and nephew is beyond and they now have to miss out on all this,” she said

Mrs McGuinness said that as Natalie’s mother she will never “recover from her loss.” “I have not only lost a loving daughter but also a best friend. I miss her phone calls and text messages. It took me awhile to come to terms with the silence of the phone and the home,” she said.

The court heard that Natalie and her mother had long chats in the car with some being more serious than others. “Our last serious chat was about Karen Buckley (RIP) and Natalie asked how could any parent cope with the news that their daughter was taken from them at the hands of another human being. How ironic here we are now in the same situation. I couldn’t answer her truthfully that day and to be honest I don’t think I still can,” she said.

Mrs McGuinness said her daughter was “so innocent” and “saw the good in everyone”. “It’s all so surreal and hard to deal with even after 19 months, we don’t believe this is real and happening to our family,” she said.

“We will mourn Natalie’s loss every second of everyday we live. We have been given a life sentence. Natalie was an extraordinary daughter and human being and did not deserve this fate,” she said.

The victim’s sister, Jodie McGuinness, then read a second emotional victim impact statement from the stand. She said she was 19-years-old when Natalie passed away and she was expecting a baby boy. “We planned so much for the future. While I was waiting for my first doctor’s appointment she had it all figured out; who would do night feeds, who would change nappies, who would do all the other baby duties,” said Ms McGuinness.

“It’s been 591 days without her on this world and it feels like a lifetime. The clock doesn’t stop, the day’s don’t get slower, the memories don’t fade, the anguish doesn’t go away,” she said.

Ms McGuinness said her sister’s life was taken “by the person she trusted, the person she loved so much and that in itself is indescribable.”

“To say Natalie was innocent and naïve is true but I’m sure that everyone sitting here has trusted a doctor’s opinion. Just like Natalie did, she trusted that if a doctor could see Oisin fit to be in public then that was that. She trusted in the doctors and was proven wrong. Nobody could have foreseen the events that happened that morning but hindsight is a great thing,” she said.

She said her sister was supposed to “guide” her through the “tough times” and “dance” her “through the good times” but that has all been “ripped out” from under her feet.

She said Oisin Conroy has affected “hundreds of lives” and left half a country grieving “for a girl that should not have died.”

Earlier, prosecution counsel Ms Burns called Dr Damien Mohan, a consultant forensic psychiatrist at the Central Mental Hospital (CMH), to give evidence.

Dr Mohan said he was Mr Conroy’s treating doctor at the CMH and was acutely psychotic upon his admission in October 2015. He said Mr Conroy’s insight into the death of Ms McGuinness was very poor and he did not accept that he had killed Ms McGuinness.

“He continued with the deluded belief that he was part of an alternate universe and it took several months for medication to have an effect, he remained very much out of touch with reality,” he said.

Dr Mohan said as the anti psychotic medication took effect he began to realise the enormity of his actions and began to feel extremely remorseful. He said Mr Conroy went into a depressive disorder at the time.

The witness said he has had a role in Mr Conroy’s care at the CMH since June 2016 and he has continued to make progress with his recovery. 

Dr Mohan said he assessed Mr Conroy on July 12, 2017 for the purposes of preparing this report and said that Mr Conroy suffers from chronic paranoid schizophrenia. He said this was characterised by positive symptoms such as delusional (false fixed) beliefs that he had special powers.

“Mr Conroy’s delusional belief incorporated an alternate reality, which he referred to as “The Matrix”. He thought others could hear his thoughts and he was hearing voices that were not present,” he said.

The court heard Mr Conroy’s illness remains only partially treated and he continues to suffer from a mental disorder. He said he continues to require ongoing treatment with anti psychotic and antidepressant medication. He has not yet developed full insight into the nature of his illness or his offending behaviour, said Dr Mohan.

The witness said the severity of Mr Conroy’s illness is such that failure to admit him to an approved centre would be likely to lead to a serious deterioration in his condition and he is in need of inpatient care and treatment.

Dr Mohan recommended to the court that Mr Conroy be committed to the CMH and he confirmed that there was a bed available for him there today.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt said it was clear Mr Conroy needed close supervision for the foreseeable future and he made an order committing him to the CMH for inpatient care.

In conclusion, the judge said he hoped it was of some consolation for the McGuinness family that they were able to give victim impact statements and it would be of some help in the future.

“I can say the evidence confirms what is obvious that Natalie was clearly a very kind and exceptional person. I would like to add my condolences to the McGuinness family on their loss,” he said.

During the two-day trial, Detective Sergeant Patrick Harney from Sligo Garda Station gave evidence that Mr Conroy and Ms McGuinness had been in a relationship for four months prior to the incident. The deceased was good friends with the accused’s sister and began a relationship with Mr Conroy. They both had an interest in fitness and martial arts.

Ms McGuinness was dropped to Mr Conroy’s residence by her parents on the evening of October 27 and stayed the night. At 10am the following morning Mr Conroy made a 999 call to emergency services requesting an ambulance and paramedics. He said: “I’ve killed my friend, I’ve strangled her, I gave her a rear naked choke hold.” 

Det Sgt Harney said that emergency services attended the scene and Ms McGuinness’ naked body was found on the floor of the bedroom. Mr Conroy was standing over the body in an aggressive stance, breathing heavily and his fists were clenched. He was tasered by gardaí and became subdued.

Ms McGuinness was unresponsive and resuscitation efforts were made at Sligo General Hospital but she was pronounced dead at 11.22am. Her cause of death was compression of the neck and strangulation. There was a lot of blood found at the scene but Chief State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy did not note any stab wounds or blood injuries to Ms McGuinness's body.

Mr Conroy had a significant head injury and his skull bone was on show. He had caused this laceration to himself using a knife, said Det Sgt Harney. 

The accused told gardaí that Natalie was sleeping and he then strangled her with a rear naked choke which he had learned from Brazilian jiu-jitsu. "She struggled so hard, I knew I had to kill her, kill her, kill her,” he said.

The court heard there was a struggle in his mind "between the devil and Jesus" and that a voice had come into his head saying he had to kill Natalie.

Under cross examination by Mr Grehan, defending, Det Sgt Harney agreed with counsel that Mr Conroy was someone with a very bizarre thought process who did not interact as a normal person and he believed he was in the Matrix.

 The witness said the accused displayed “complete detachment” during his garda interviews and it was as if he was in a different place. Mr Conroy had had a number of engagements with mental health services since 2009 and in the lead-up to this incident he was being weaned off anti-psychotic medication, he said.

Consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Fiona Toal, from the Central Mental Hospital, said Mr Conroy was suffering from schizophrenia and his condition had persisted for months after the killing despite aggressive treatment in hospital. Mr Conroy’s condition may have been masked in earlier life due to his drug use, she said. 

Mr Conroy had returned to education after a “chaotic family lifestyle” and had a number of previous criminal convictions for offences including burglary which were related to drug and alcohol abuse.

He was seen by an outpatient service in September 2015 and it was noted he had stopped taking his medication. This was six weeks before he strangled Ms McGuinness.

Dr Toal examined Mr Conroy in January 2017 and he told her he was upset because his mind had tricked him into killing someone. He said that he had not slept for days before the killing and on the morning he had tried to skin himself alive. Dr Toal said that Mr Conroy thought he was ‘in the Matrix’ and had to kill Natalie to save her. The accused said he thought he had done the right thing.

Dr Toal said family members had voiced concerns about his mental health but that no one could have foreseen the terrible things that could have happened. Mr Conroy did not know what he was doing was wrong and his thinking was confused with his fight between good and evil. She said Mr Conroy was suffering from a mental disorder at the time of the offence and he would not have been able to refrain from killing Ms McGuinness.

A second forensic psychiatrist, Dr Stephen Monks from the Central Mental Hospital, told the jury this morning that Mr Conroy was suffering from schizophrenia. He said the accused would not have known the nature and quality of his act and would have not have been able to refrain from killing his then girlfriend. 

Dr Monks said he met with Mr Conroy on June 6, 2017 where the accused outlined to him his family history, personal history, drug and alcohol history and his past psychiatric history.

The witness said the accused was suffering from an acute episode of schizophrenia on the day. He said Mr Conroy displayed illogical thinking and was going off on lengthy thought disorder monologues during his garda interviews.

Dr Monks said the accused had two psychiatric admissions prior to the offence, one in Roscommon services in 2014 and the other in Sligo in 2015. He said the assessments pointed to psychosis but were attributed to drug and alcohol abuse as well as personality disorder.

“With my assessment and the benefit of hindsight, it is very clear that these were developing schizophrenia episodes,” he said. The doctor said that Mr Conroy will have to take anti-psychotic treatment as a life-long commitment and he will need to be supervised forever.

The witness said that Mr Conroy thought what he did was entirely morally justified and was unable to distinguish from what was real and what was not. “He was in the throws of an acute psychotic episode which manifested itself in his delusional beliefs. He believed he was in an alternate reality - the Matrix - and he was trying to escape from the Matrix,” he said.