Deirdre Morley ‘felt she had irreparably damaged’ her children
The court heard harrowing evidence of her state of mind before her children’s deaths
Deirdre Morley (44) of Parson’s Court, Newcastle, Co Dublin
Asked if she wanted a glass of water during her first interview with gardaí, Deirdre Morley replied: “I just want them back.”
Ms Morley was visibly emotional and distressed when she was arrested in Tallaght hospital, having come out of an induced coma, and continued to be so at intervals during three Garda interviews in the weeks afterwards. But “it was clear she wanted to get through this and explain to everyone” what had transpired, Det Sgt Dara Kenny said. Ms Morley had been “very open and forthcoming”, the court heard.
There were family members, most of all her husband Andrew McGinley, who deserved to understand what had taken place, defence barrister Michael Bowman SC told the court.
On Monday, she entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. On the first full day of evidence before Mr Justice Paul Coffey on Tuesday, Ms Morley sat with her hands in front of her throughout the evidence. Dressed in black and wearing a surgical mask, she occasionally adjusted her mask or bowed her head. Otherwise, she remained still throughout the evidence of the rapid deterioration in her mental state and the tragic events of the final hours of her children’s lives.
What happened to end the children’s lives is not in question, the jury was told. Central to everything is her mental capacity at the time of the killings. “You’re guilty in law if you did a thing and you meant to do the thing. But you can’t be held responsible if you had no control of your mind,” barrister Anne-Marie Lawlor SC, for the prosecution, told the jury.
There was no question but that the children were well cared for and loved by devoted parents, Ms Morley and Mr McGinley, the court heard repeatedly. Everyone who knew the children found them to be “impeccably behaved... fantastic children” who “had a very happy life”, Det Sgt Kenny said.
Ms Morley was signed off work with stress in April 2018. In 2019, she was admitted to St Patrick’s for four weeks. Some time just before she was released, her husband took a telephone call from the hospital. He was asked if he thought she was a danger to herself or to the children. “He was really shocked... He honestly was stunned that this was even being suggested,” Mr Bowman told the court.
He and her sisters “supported as best they could” and set up a WhatsApp group to make sure support was available to her. “It wasn’t his fault. Even the persons closest to her would have been unfamiliar with how rapid her mental deterioration had been,” taking her into that “very dark place” where she arrived on January 24th, said Mr Bowman.
Ms Lawlor told the jury they would hear evidence from two psychiatrists that Ms Morley grew to imagine that her children couldn’t ever lead healthy lives. She developed “an understanding and interpretation” that was “not based on reality” that Darragh was showing signs of anger. “She felt they had to go together,” the court was told.
“Her characterisation of the children misbehaving was a symptom of her mental illness... it bordered on delusional and had no relation to the reality of the situation at home,” Mr Bowman told the court. “She felt she had irreparably damaged them or compromised them for the rest of their lives.”
The jury heard evidence of how her “dark thoughts” intensified rapidly, particularly on the day before her children’s deaths, when her husband, Andrew McGinley, was away on a work trip.
“The feelings intensified that I needed to go... I started to think it was going to be Thursday or Friday that it would happen,” she later told gardaí.
“I didn’t tell anyone how dark my thoughts were... I didn’t tell anyone I was suicidal or I thought of taking the children with me,” she said in her statement to gardaí.
Mr McGinley was due back on Friday evening. The court heard how, on Thursday evening, she had attempted to sedate all three children, having formulated a plan to suffocate them in their sleep. Conor was having a bowl of porridge before bed, and Darragh was having Honey Cheerios.
Ms Morley crushed six to eight morphine tablets to put them in the boys’ cereal. But they said it tasted disgusting, and didn’t want to eat it. She put a tablet containing codeine in Carla’s purple sippy cup, though she believed Carla hadn’t consumed much of it.
On their last night together, she slept in the big bed with Darragh and Conor, while Carla – who had fallen asleep early – slept in her own bed. Her state of mind at that time was relief that her plan hadn’t worked, but she didn’t know how she was going to go on. Asked if her husband featured in her thoughts, she said he hadn’t. “It became like tunnel vision, I couldn’t go on... I couldn’t leave them behind,” she said.
In interviews with gardaí, she would later say that she blamed herself for “damaging” her children. “They were broken like me because I couldn’t parent them. I couldn’t be resilient.”
The children’s final morning, January 24th, 2020, began normally. Darragh was off sick with a cough, and Ms Morley kept Carla home from creche. During the morning, Carla was playing with her dolls and toys, while Darragh was using his iPad and watching TV. Both children watched Trolls together for a while. But at 12pm, the jury heard, she decided Darragh had had too much screen time.
They had a minor argument over screen time use, which “reinforced my faulty thinking” that she had damaged her children. “I realise it was faulty now,” she told gardaí.
At 12.39pm she got a text from her niece to say that wedding invites had come through. She responded, “So exciting.”
But at that stage, at least one of the children may already have been dead. “I don’t think Darragh was [alive]. I’m not sure about Carla... I remember replying ‘it’s so exciting’, and thinking, look what I’ve just done, or look what I’m in the process of doing,” she told gardaí.
While she was suffocating Darragh, she wanted to stop, but she felt she couldn’t. She carried the bodies of Darragh and Carla upstairs and then collected Conor early from school.
They stopped on the way home so that he could get his favourite roll in Tesco. While he was having his 15 minutes of screen time, she wrote a note that would later be discovered by a bicycle in the hall. “Don’t go upstairs. Phone 911. I’m sorry.” After she killed Conor in the front room, she amended the note to include “or front room”.
They sat together watching Jurassic World. “He was just being really good,” she told gardaí. He asked his mother where Darragh and Carla were. She told him Darragh was at a friend’s house and Carla was at creche.
Her interviews with gardaí gave an insight into her state of mind in the final moments of her son’s life: “I’m thinking, I can’t do this. This is awful... I can’t not do this because the other two are dead. How would he live with that? How would he live knowing that his mother killed his siblings?”
She persuaded him to put tape on his mouth and a bag on his head by pretending it was a game. “When I tightened it, I think he got frightened. It’s horrific, I know it’s horrific,” she told gardaí. “He said ‘Mum, stop’, and I said, ‘I’m really sorry’.”
After she had killed the children, she took a cocktail of medication and brought a half bottle of wine with her in the car. She intended to end her life at the N7 flyover bridge, but she ended up crashing her car into a verge.
A passing motorist, nurse Deirdre Gorman, came to her assistance and brought her home. Later, a taxi driver, Paul O’Callaghan, came across her as she collapsed against his car and called an ambulance. Neighbours who assisted at the scene said they would “never forget the colour of her face, she had a deathly pallor. She was yellow and orange.”
“It’s abundantly clear we’re dealing with a tragedy of unspeakable proportions,” Mr Bowman said.
The trial continues on Wednesday.