An “emotionally manipulative” man murdered a woman he was obsessed with by setting fire to his car while she was inside, the Central Criminal Court heard today.
Ichael Leonard, 63, from Hillcrest, Glenosheen, Kilmallock, Co Limerick, was today sentenced to life in prison after admitting himself to the murder of 72-year-old Mary O’Keeffe in a wooded area in Doneraile, Co Cork on April 4. pleaded guilty in February last year.
The court heard that Leonard had arranged to meet Ms O’Keeffe in the wooded area, but within minutes of her arrival he threw two gallons of gasoline into the car and set it on fire.
An autopsy showed she was alive when the fire broke out.
The victim’s granddaughter, Nicky O’Keeffe, cried as she told the court of her grandmother’s love of music and dancing, her generosity and kindness.
She said: “Mary O’Keeffe will always be in our hearts, she is deeply loved, sorely missed and will never be forgotten. We like to think that she is happy and dancing in heaven.
Before sentencing Leonard to the mandatory murder sentence, Judge Paul McDermott described it as “the most horrific arson attack that resulted in the death of this poor woman.”
He added, “A terrible loss has been inflicted on this family and I can only offer them my sincerest condolences.”
When he announced the verdict, there was a loud clapping in court from people who knew Ms O’Keeffe.”
Detective Sgt James O’Shea informed Anne-Marie Lawlor SC, for the Chief Prosecutor, that Mrs O’Keeffe was living at Mallow in Cork and was a widow at the time of her death.
She had three sons, eleven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
She was in excellent health and worked as a cook, usually from six in the morning.
The defendant, who has no criminal record, worked for Coillte but was retired at the time of the murder.
Det Sgt O’Shea said Ms O’Keeffe met Leonard in 2016 when they both went dancing regularly.
They dated for a while, but in 2019 she made it clear she didn’t want to see him anymore.
This “greatly upset the defendant,” Gda O’Shea said, and the communication between them uncovered during the Garda investigation suggested he was “emotionally manipulative” in getting her to get in with him to stay in touch.
A witness who knew both told Gardai that he “choked her and she didn’t know what he was capable of.”
During the Covid lockdowns, Ms O’Keeffe was able to cut off contact with Leonard, but CCTV showed he visited the area around her home 45 times from Christmas 2020 until her death the following February.
In the 13 days before her death, he was near her home 12 times, while phone messages he sent her suggested he was telling her he was elsewhere.
Gda O’Shea said Leonard had an “increasing obsession with her movements and an extreme interest in any person he believed to be in a relationship with”.
CCTV also showed that Leonard had gone to the village where this man lived and stayed there alone in a hotel.
On the day of the murder, Mrs O’Keeffe and Leonard arranged to meet in Doneraile and traveled separately in their own cars.
She parked in an “off the beaten track” area about 750 yards off the main Mallow to Mitchelstown road.
She arrived at 2:19 p.m. and the inquest found that she got into his car and at 2:23 p.m. poured two gallons of gasoline from a bucket into the car and onto Ms O’Keeffe and set the car on fire.
Leonard suffered burns to his own face and left the area on foot before phoning his former wife, who arrived at the scene around 3:22 p.m.
She handed her phone to a firefighter, who heard the Leonard say, “You won’t find me, I’m far away, I can’t live with what happened.”
Leonard’s daughter arrived at the scene shortly after and was able to tell Gardai where her father was using an app on her phone. Gardai found him 2.5 kilometers away in the Awbeg River, about 12 meters from the bank.
Gardai rescued him from the river and he was taken to hospital before being arrested the next day.
dr Margot Bolster performed a post-mortem on Ms O’Keeffe’s remains and concluded that the cause of death was extreme third-degree burns related to carbon monoxide inhalation, referring to a fire in a car.
She was alive when the fire broke out, confirmed Det Sgt O’Shea.
Leonard admitted during his fourth Garda interview, saying he was “distressed” that Ms O’Keeffe lied to him.
He said it was “terribly hurtful to be lied to like that, it gnaws at you”.
He said he did not go there with any intention of killing her, but Gda O’Shea confirmed that Leonard had an open bucket of two gallons of gasoline in his car before Ms. O’Keeffe arrived.
Nicky O’Keeffe told the court that her grandmother was known to her family as “Moll”. When one of her favorite singers was playing she would travel all over Ireland to dance and at home she always had two radios on, one in her kitchen and the other in her living room.
She was a talented knitter and gave away the sweaters, scarves and blankets she created. If someone insisted on paying, she would use the money to buy them a gift.
When the family heard on the radio about a body found in Doneraile, she said: “We heard the devastating news a poor family was about to receive, a beautiful, kind, loving, heart of gold minor, who had been killed.”
She said they couldn’t understand why someone would do such a terrible thing, adding, “Every time we had to share the news with another family member, another piece of our heart broke.”
The following weeks and months were “extremely hard” and the nightmares were “day and night”.
“That was the last thing we thought about at night and the first thing we thought about in the morning.”
She said: “She was a positive, happy person who had the ability to improve any situation. Your smile and laughter will live in our hearts forever.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/man-63-who-murdered-grandmother-by-setting-car-on-fire-with-her-inside-jailed-for-life-42219323.html Man, 63, who murdered grandmother by setting car on fire, with her sentenced to life imprisonment