Clare farmer found guilty of law student’s murder

Body of Eoin Ryan found in a barrel on farm in 2011


A Clare farmer has been sentenced to life in prison for murderingr a 21-year-old student, who he said had made a pass at him.

Eoin Ryan’s severely beaten body was found in a barrel in a field in Clare on June 7th, 2011, after owner Joe Heffernan called gardaí to report killing the devil there.

The 33-year-old of Cappagh Beg, Barefield, Ennis had pleaded not guilty to murdering the Newhall law student at that address.

He told gardaí that he had killed a man after he had come onto him, adding that the devil had been in this man’s eyes.

The Central Criminal Court heard that Mr Ryan had sustained multiple injuries to his head and body and that his blood was found on a socket wrench at the scene.

State Pathologist Marie Cassidy said he was the victim of a violent and sustained assault and died of severe, extensive trauma to his head, with blunt force trauma to his neck and chest a contributory factor.

“The skull had been broken up into small pieces, some of them missing,” she said, adding that injuries to the left side of his head suggested they were received while the right side of his head was on the ground.

She said that his breastbone was fractured, something that would have required “considerable force”. She said that the crush injury to his heart and tares to his oesophagus and windpipe were also potentially fatal.

The prosecution said that Heffernan’s motive was his abhorrence with himself that he might be homosexual or have engaged in a homosexual act that morning. The trial had heard that Mr Ryan was gay and that both men had left a pub together just hours before his death.

The defence asked for a manslaughter verdict, arguing that Heffernan’s adjustment disorder following his father’s death caused him to think he was killing the devil. There was evidence that Heffernan believed he could bring his father back from the dead.

However a forensic psychiatrist, who interviewed him three times over the past two years, said he knew what he was doing was wrong. She noted that he had tried to conceal evidence by burning Mr Ryan’s clothes and bank card afterwards.

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy told the jury that they could reach one of three possible verdicts, none of which could be an acquittal. He said the physical act was not in dispute and that the crux of the case lay in the defendant’s state of mind.

He said the defence was arguing for a verdict of manslaughter on two possible grounds, intoxication and diminished responsibility due to a mental disorder.

However, the jury did not accept that his mental disorder had substantially diminished his responsibility or that his alleged intoxication at the time was enough to prevent him forming intent.

The seven women and five spent just over six hours deliberating over three days before returning with a majority murder verdict of 11 to one.

Victim impact statements

Mr Ryan’s brother and sister, Daniel and Lisa Ryan, then entered the witness box where Daniel Ryan delivered a victim impact statement on behalf of themselves and their parents, Phil and Don.

He said it was impossible to convey just how much their younger brother meant to them and how unbearable his loss was.

He said his brother was the baby of the family and was cherished as any son and brother would be.

“He was very easy to love, hilariously funny, gentle, caring and intelligent,” he said.

He said he always had a broad smile for everyone, a bounce in his step and loved being at home with his parents.

“He had something positive to say about everyone and saw only good in the world,” he added.

“Every minute of Eoin’s 21 years was lived with positivity and energy. He had a greater sense of joy in life that anyone we know,” he said.

Mr Ryan thanked his brother’s friends for the formative role they had played in his life, saying their sense of fun and adventure reminded the family of him.

Mr Ryan had recently finished his final year in European Studies and Law in the University of Limerick.

His brother explained that he had then completed an internship at the European Parliament in Brussels, from which he had returned with lots of new friends and stories to tell. He was working for the summer to save money for a Master’s in Environmental Law in Belfast.

“Life was opening up to him and he knew he had the support and love of his family in everything he aimed to achieve,” he said.

“No human being deserves to die in such a lonely, terrifying and violent fashion, least of all someone as peaceful and gentle as our Eoin,” he said.

“It’s every family’s nightmare to lose someone they love in such horrendous circumstances; we now live that nightmare every day,” he said.

“Our world ended on the 7th of June 2011. Each morning is begun with a jolt of pain as the memory of what happened to Eoin returns to us,” said Mr Ryan.

“Days are to be endured and not enjoyed. We battle every day with questions that will never be answered and torment that will not cease,” he continued.

He said their parents had worked hard to start their brother on the right path in life.

“He was deeply loved by them and was reminded of this every day,” he said.

“All our hopes for Eoin were destroyed in minutes by the barbaric actions of another, just kilometres from our home.

“The savagery of what happed to Eoin that night is something that we can never, ever come to terms with. Eoin’s life was brutally ended that night and so many more were destroyed,” he said.

“Eoin deserved a long, full and happy life and there is simply no punishment sufficient to lessen any of the hurt that has been inflicted on us,” he concluded, before his brother’s murderer was led away to begin his life sentence.