Corbet’s provocation plea failed to convince jury

Loss of self-control was the key plank of defendant’s claim of manslaughter

Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan explained to the jurors that provocation is a subjective test.

Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan explained to the jurors that provocation is a subjective test.

 

Robert Corbet admitted killing Aoife Phelan. He strangled her with his forearm in the garage of his family home before putting a black sack over her head and dumping her body in an oil barrel, which he buried in a pit behind the house.

Corbet was 23 at the time, seven years younger than the woman he had met in a nightclub just a few months earlier. The morning after he killed her, he flew to New York to visit a former girlfriend. All of this he acknowledged.

Corbet pleaded not guilty to murder, an offence that carries an automatic penalty of life in prison. Instead he admitted to manslaughter on the grounds of provocation.

When first interviewed by Gardaí, Corbet denied involvement in the killing and denied phone contact with Ms Phelan about a pregnancy. But after phone records were put to him, including evidence of 260 text messages between them on October 23rd 2012 alone – he made his first admissions, telling gardaí he killed Ms Phelan in his jeep and threw her body into a river.

Argument

Later, after officers found Ms Phelan’s body at his home, Corbet told them an argument had broken out in the garage and he snapped.

“I had a good, firm grip,” he said.

“What were you trying to do?” he was asked.

“Kill her,” he replied.

He was asked what he thought the result of placing his arm around her neck would be. “Death,” he replied.

Corbet agreed that Ms Phelan was a barrier to him getting back together with his ex-girlfriend. “The pregnancy was going to scupper it, the love of your life. Is that why you killed Aoife Phelan?” he was asked by detectives. “Yes,” he replied.

Giving evidence at the trial, Corbet said he was suicidal at the time of his Garda interviews and would have said anything. He told the court that when he and Ms Phelan were in the garage, he asked her about the pregnancy and an argument broke out. (The State Pathologist told the trial Ms Phelan was not pregnant when she was killed).

“She started making threats that she’d ruin my life and my business if I didn’t face up to what would be a pregnancy.” He said she was referring to the haulage business his late father had built.

“I was actually afraid,” he said. “I just saw red.” It wasn’t hard to imagine the 6’4”, 18-stone Corbet overpowering the petite 30-year-old.

He said Ms Phelan was speaking quite aggressively and in a very harsh tone.

“It was like a protective instinct went off in me,” he said. “To hear someone threaten everything you worked for, everything you are, I just snapped. It was a loss of self control.”

Unforseen passion

Loss of self-control was the key plank of Corbet’s claim for manslaughter over murder. As Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan explained to the jurors, provocation is a subjective test. They had to decide whether Corbet, given what they knew about him, his background and his circumstances, was so provoked by Ms Phelan that he was overcome by a sudden, unforeseen onset of passion that deprived him of his self-control.

Prosecuting barrister Isobel Kennedy SC said there was no such provocation. She reminded the jurors of his own description of events that night – how he used his forearm and then both hands to strangle Ms Phelan, how he put cable ties around her neck and a bag over her head to make sure she was dead, how he put her body in a barrel and rolled it into a pit the next morning.

“This was a man entirely in control,” she said. “His acts were deliberate and calculated. The prosecution has proved to you that this man is guilty of murder.”

By a majority of 10 to two, the jury agreed. Corbet greeted his life sentence with a blank downward stare before a prison officer placed a hand on his shoulder and led him away.

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