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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
By Grinne N. Aodha

Person in hedge ‘kicking hard in cry for help’, Ashling Murphy murder trial told

PA Archive

A woman who was running in the area where Irish teacher Ashling Murphy was killed said she saw a man in a hedgerow who seemed to be crouched over a person who was kicking out “like she was crying out for help”, a court has heard.

Ms Murphy, 23, was killed while exercising along a canal walkway in Tullamore, Co Offaly, on January 12 2022.

Jozef Puska, 33, with an address at Lynally Grove in Mucklagh, Tullamore, has pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder.

The first day of the trial at the Criminal Courts of Justice heard that the prosecution’s case would include maps, CCTV footage and witness testimony from those who were on the canal walkway that day.

On the second day of the trial, a teacher from Tullamore Jenna Stack told the court she was going for a run with her friend Aoife along the canal at around 3.15pm on January 12 last year.

She told the court she had noticed a distinctive-looking bike in the ditch and heard loud rustling coming from the dense hedge.

“It was like someone was struggling to be honest,” Ms Stack told the court, adding that she initially thought someone had fallen off their bike.

Ms Stack told the court she then stepped in closer to the hedge and could see the back of a person wearing what looked like “a navy bomber padded jacket” with an emblem.

She said she saw someone who seemed to be crouched over another person and appeared to be “holding her down”.

“His face, his teeth were grinding and he shouted ‘get away’,” Ms Stack told the court, calling the experience “terrifying”.

“The girl, she was lying on the ground and she was kicking so hard, like she was crying out for help.”

“She was moving whatever part of her body she could to get help,” she said, adding that she had made no sound.

Ms Stack said that she was afraid he was going to rape the person, and she told him she would call the Gardai.

She told the court that the interaction lasted around 30 seconds.

Barrister for the defence Michael Bowman SC suggested to Ms Stack that the person seen crouching on the day of Ms Murphy’s death may have been “endeavouring” to find out what happened, and was trying to assist.

Mr Bowman also suggested to the court that Puska’s recollection was there was an engagement with the witness Ms Stack, but that he could not make out what was being said.

Mr Bowman also suggested Puska had not called out aggressively, but in pain from having his legs cut on the briars.

He told the court that Puska’s recollection was that Ms Murphy was moving, but said it was not the way Ms Stack described.

Mr Bowman also suggested to the witness that Ms Murphy’s hands could have been on Puska’s forearms as he tried to stop the bleeding.

Ms Stack replied that she did not see that and said the person was kicking her legs.

“That was her cry for help,” she told the court.

She told the court the man had a shaved head, sallow skin, dark eyebrows and a foreign accent.

Asked by Mr Bowman about her identification of a suspect from a line-up on the day after Ms Murphy’s death, who was not Puska, Ms Stack said they were “similar”.

Aoife Marron, a primary school teacher who lives in the area, was jogging with Ms Stack on January 12 last year.

I started looking around ... I was looking to see if there was something there. I went down into the ditch and shouted to see if I could get a response, and then I called the guards
— Witness Enda Molloy

She told the court they had hesitated when they saw the bike in the ditch, but stopped when they heard noises.

Ms Marron told the court she said to Ms Stack “that’s very strange”.

She said she saw a male with his head down and initially thought he had fallen off his bike into the ditch.

She told the court the man said “OK, OK” and then moved as though he was coming out of the ditch.

Ms Marron said Ms Stack shouted at the man before they sprinted from the scene.

“Jenna said to me ‘there was a girl there’,” Ms Marron told the court.

“I was terrified, I thought he was coming after me.”

Ms Marron agreed that she did not have a great view of who or what was in the hedgerow.

Tullamore local Enda Molloy was cycling along the canal when he said he saw an “animated exchange” at Digby bridge between two women – one of whom he knew as Ms Marron – and two men who worked for Waterways Ireland.

He said that as he approached, he was asked whether he saw anything, and was told there may be an attack.

He said he cycled back until he saw the bicycle with distinctive green parts.

“I started looking around … I was looking to see if there was something there,” he said.

Mr Molloy said he saw a person lying on their back in the undergrowth.

“I went down into the ditch and shouted to see if I could get a response, and then I called the guards,” he said.

Charlie Kelly, a local man who works with Waterways Ireland, said he was with his colleague Colin Petitt on January 12 last year when two women came up to them who were “very distressed-looking, agitated”.

Mr Kelly said the women asked for their help and said there was “a woman being attacked by a man” at a scene about halfway down the stretch of canal.

I never thought that something like this could ever happen, you know
— Colin Petitt

Mr Kelly said when he heard a bike mentioned, he initially thought two people had collided with each other.

Two cyclists then approached – identified to the court as Mr Molloy and Janusz Wilco – who turned back towards the scene.

Mr Kelly said they would get there faster than he and his colleague would on foot and in wetsuits.

Mr Kelly said he saw the bicycle at the scene first, and then he saw a pink hat. He said one of the cyclists was on the phone.

He said he saw a woman’s body in a GAA tracksuit through the hedge and that one of her legs was up against a tree stump.

“I knew she was dead, there was very little colour in her hands … snow white,” he said.

Colin Petitt said his reaction to seeing the women was “shock”, adding: “I never thought that something like this could ever happen, you know.”

Detective Sergeant Paul Curran also gave evidence on Wednesday about aerial photographs he took on January 13, as did cyclist Janusz Wilco and another local Daisy Gowing.

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