It was just a little over two days after Ashling Murphy was found stabbed in a ditch on January 12 last year that Jozef Puska allegedly claimed that he was responsible for the crime a court has been told.
Lying on a hospital bed in a small private room at St James’s Hospital in Dublin, and flanked on each side by two gardaí, he told an interpreter in Slovak that he was the man the police were looking for. Shortly afterwards, he began to cry.
This account was corroborated by three witnesses this week, who each repeated the same words Mr Puska allegedly said that day – ‘I did it, I murdered, I am the murderer.’
One of those witnesses, Slovak translator Miroslav Sedlacek, told the court that after the alleged confession, Mr Puska, 33, from Lynally Grove, Mucklagh in Co. Offaly, was ‘upset’ and even ‘desperate’.
Mr Sedlacek gave evidence this week at Court 13 of Dublin’s Central Criminal complex, where so many people turned up to witness Mr Puska’s trial for the murder of the 23-year-old school teacher that an overflow courtroom was set up to accommodate them.
It was just a little over two days after Ashling Murphy (pictured) was found stabbed in a ditch on January 12 last year that Jozef Puska allegedly claimed that he was responsible for the crime
ACCUSED: Jozef Puska pleaded not guilty to the murder of Ashling Murphy
Both courtrooms fell silent as Mr Puska’s alleged confession was relayed to the jury over two separate days.
Mr Sedlacek, a tall, thin bespectacled man who wore a pink shirt, tweed waistcoat and tie, spoke from the witness box in a heavy Czech accent. He said that after his alleged confession, Mr Puska’s ‘voice changed significantly… after he has made his confession he was quite emotional, so his voice was trembling.’
He said: ‘At this point his sentences were quite disjointed, but I suppose it was a result of the situation that he was in. I would describe him as being in very low spirits, and I would say even desperate, after the confession.’
This week Mr Puska – sitting in the dock in the grey suit jacket and trousers and open-neck shirt he has worn every day of the trial – listened intently to the evidence of his alleged confession, occasionally making notes.
The 33-year-old Slovak father of five has pleaded not guilty to Ashling Murphy’s murder on the banks of the Grand Canal in Tullamore, Co. Offaly.
Also in the room when Mr Puska allegedly confessed were Detective Sergeant Brian Jennings and Sergeant Pam Nugent.
Mr Sedlacek told the court the confession came in the third conversation he translated for gardaí with Mr Puska in two days.
He said he translated the interviews over the telephone on speaker mode as he was in the west of Ireland. Covid-19 restrictions at the time had limited access to hospitals anyway.
The first interview was on January 13, when Mr Puska had arrived at the hospital saying he had been the victim of a stabbing in Blanchardstown, Dublin.
In his evidence to the court this week, Garda Conor Newman said he arrived at St James’s Hospital on the afternoon of Thursday, January 13, the day after Ashling was killed.
‘I ordered an interpreter, because he was from a different country, he was a victim of crime and I thought a translator would make him feel more comfortable,’ Garda Newman recalled.
He said Mr Puska told him he got a lift to Dublin from Tullamore the previous day, after leaving the town at around 3pm.
He said he got a lift to Heuston Station in Dublin before flagging a taxi to Blanchardstown in the west of the city. When he got out of the taxi there, he claimed he was set upon by two men and stabbed in broad daylight.
Garda Newman said: ‘He gave us a description of the men. He said one of them had darker skin than the other.
‘He said he went to his father’s apartment, but he couldn’t remember how he got there. There were very clear scratches on his hands.’
The garda said his impression was that Mr Puska’s account left much to be answered.
‘We weren’t satisfied with the answers he gave us. He did not really give us a clear line of inquiry. The description he gave was very vague.
‘I knew there was more to the story,’ he continued. ‘There were holes in the story.’
WITNESSES: Giving evidence at the Central Criminal Court this week were, Detective Sergeant Pamela Nugent (left), Slovak interpreter Miroslav Sedlacek (right)
Garda Paul McDonnell (left) and Detective Sergeant Brian Jennings (right)
search: A Garda team at the crime scene at the Grand Canal in Tullamore, Co. Offaly
Together with his colleague, Garda Paul McDonnell, he went back to Blanchardstown Garda Station and reported back to his superior, Detective Inspector Shane McCartan.
In evidence, Inspector McCartan said of Mr Puska’s account of being stabbed: ‘There were a lot of pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that could not be put together. It just did not add up. I was aware of his nationality. I was aware that he was residing in Tullamore.
‘We came to the conclusion that the information we were in possession of may be of material assistance to the investigation of the murder of Ashling Murphy.’
Inspector McCartan said he made contact with Tullamore gardaí and outlined what he knew, including that Mr Puska had travelled from Tullamore to Dublin on the day of Ashling’s killing.
He spoke to Detective Sergeant David Scahill in the Ashling Murphy murder incident room in Tullamore and told him about Mr Puska’s admission to hospital and their discussions with him.
Shortly afterwards, two investigating officers – Detective Sergeant Brian Jennings and Detective Garda Fergus Hogan – were dispatched to Dublin to meet Mr Puska.
They arrived at St James’s Hospital on the evening of January 13 but were initially denied access to the suspect by Dr Hennessy, a consultant doctor on the A&E ward, who said Mr Puska was post-operative and could not be interviewed.
However, when they returned the following day they did get to speak with Mr Puska with the aid of Mr Sedlacek, who was on the other end of Sergeant Jennings’ mobile phone.
In evidence, Sergeant Jennings said Mr Puska repeated his account of being attacked in Blanchardstown on January 12.
‘He said he’d met a fella called Tom on the road between Mucklagh and Tullamore and he’d given him a lift to Dublin’s Heuston train station, and from there he flagged a cab to Blanchardstown,’ he told the court.
‘They asked why he’d been going to Blanch, and he said he’d been going to meet a woman called Maria or Marion who was possibly from Hungary. He was asked did his wife know he was going on a date, and he said “no” and [that] he didn’t want her to.’
Sergeant Jennings said that, towards the end of the conversation, they asked Mr Puska if he had a bicycle.
‘He said he had, but he hadn’t had it for the past two weeks, that it had been stolen from outside his house in Mucklagh, outside Tullamore.’
Sergeant Jennings added that Mr Puska confirmed he had not reported the theft to gardaí.
The suspect also told gardaí that he had not been cycling around Tullamore on the day of Ms Murphy’s killing.
At this point, according to Detective Garda Hogan, Mr Puska appeared to become unwell and began dry-retching.
The investigating officers withdrew from the room. But after 6pm the same evening, Sergeant Pamela Nugent from Tullamore Garda Station arrived from Dublin’s Central Criminal Court with a search warrant to seize Mr Puska’s clothes and mobile phone.
Detective Sergeant Jennings accompanied her to meet Mr Puska to tell him what was going on ‘out of courtesy’.
The translator, Miroslav Sedlacek, was also present via phone.
Recalling what happened next, Mr Sedlacek said: ‘The topic started with information about a certain warrant that was issued.
‘It was explained to him that it was related to the incident in Tullamore.
‘Jozef wanted to know how it related to himself.
‘Jozef wanted to know if he was a suspect.
‘Gardaí explained to him that he’s not a suspect, he’s a person of interest.
‘Jozef didn’t really know what this is, so it was explained to him that it’s not really like a suspect.’
Ashling Murphy was a 23-year-old schoolteacher who worked at Durrow National School
According to the translator, there was a pause of up to a minute before Mr Puska responded.
Then, he told the court: ‘Jozef said to me, and asked me personally during the telephone conversation, to translate his confession.
‘He asked me to translate it accurately, exactly as that was told between me and him, before I went on interpreting, so it was quite spontaneous and everything came quickly.
‘He said: “So please tell him everything exactly as I tell you. So please tell that I did it, that I killed her but please tell him also that I did not do that intentionally.”
‘He said: “Tell them that I did not want to do it and that I am sorry that I did it and it happened.”
Sergeant Jennings cautioned Mr Puska immediately after the alleged confession was made and offered him access to a solicitor.
Mr Sedlacek translated the caution, and confirmed Mr Puska had understood it.
He said Mr Puska kept speaking: ‘Jozef was very concerned for the safety of his family.
‘His question after he had made the confession was: “Do you think my family members’ names will go public?”
‘[Mr Puska asked] is there any possibility that the girl’s family would look to take any revenge on his own family for what he did?’
Mr Sedlacek said gardaí explained there would be no problem or dispute between the two families, and that Ms Murphy’s family ‘certainly would not take any revenge’.
On Friday, the court heard that DNA taken from under Ms Murphy’s fingernails during a postmortem matched samples generated from Mr Puska.
Dr Lorna Flanagan of the Forensic Science Laboratory said the chance of the male DNA profile found under Ms Murphy’s nails coming from someone unrelated to Jozef Puska was one in 14,000.
This week the court also heard details relating to Mr Puska’s parents, who have attended each day of the trial, which is now entering its third week.
Detective William Delaney said he served a search warrant on them at their home at Armagh Road in Crumlin, on the south side of Dublin.
He said that although he did not bring a translator, they understood him and had basic English. Detective Delaney said he offered Mr Puska’s parents somewhere else to stay while their home was being searched, but they replied they would find somewhere themselves.
The court was also shown more footage of the bright sunny winter afternoon when Ashling was killed; this time taken from three cameras at two residences near Digby Bridge in the minutes after the 23-year-old schoolteacher died.
The footage showed two women dressed in pink running gear running to homes near the bridge. These women, Garda David Harney told the court, were believed to be Jenna Stack and Aoife Marron, who said they had minutes previously seen Mr Puska in the ditch with Ashling when her legs were kicking hard in ‘a cry for help’.
The trial continues tomorrow before Judge Tony Hunt and a jury of nine men and three women.