O’Haras have their say at last as Graham Dwyer gets life

Victim-impact statement focuses on intelligent, generous, hard-working Elaine O’Hara

“We can hear her voice in the texts, just wanting to be loved.” The line in Frank O’Hara’s victim impact statement, relating to the texts exchanged between his daughter Elaine and her murderer, encapsulated the most poignant aspect of this trial.

After 10 weeks of a via dolorosa in court 13, and 32 months since her disappearance, it shifted memories away from murderous depravity back to the lonely, yearning spirit of Elaine O'Hara.

"To be lonely is probably one of the worst things you can be," Mr Justice Tony Hunt said later, in his lengthy pre-sentencing remarks.

But this day was for Elaine’s family. It was over, finally, at least in the criminal courts. It was immediately evident when the O’Haras entered the court.


Relaxed and smiling

Frank O’Hara and his partner were relaxed and smiling when they took their seats alongside Elaine’s siblings, flanked as usual by Victim Support volunteers. Eleven members of the jury had accepted the court’s invitation to be present and they watched as prosecution counsel Seán Guerin, in measured tones, read a statement designed to ensure that a generous, hardworking, intelligent young woman, who related to children better than to adults – and was posthumously awarded a BA in Montessori education – would not be defined by her illness or “relegated to a lurid headline”.

It was “distressing” to see Elaine’s private life “laid bare before the nation, despite the fact that she was the victim”, the statement said. “Some of the reporting in the print media was insulting to Elaine and deeply upsetting for the family.”

For a few moments, Graham Dwyer, wearing a sombre navy tie, became almost incidental, but perhaps not to his father, John, who was the only member of the family present.

When Guerin read that Elaine was “emotionally immature and very trusting of anyone who showed her kindness”, Dwyer looked down and seemed to wince. Then again, any deviation – even the apparent smirks – from his inscrutable, mildly interested demeanour might be interpreted, wrongly, as reaction.

When Guerin read the family’s harrowing questions – “When did Elaine realise it was not a game any more?”, “When did she realise that the intention was to kill her for real?”, “Did she suffer much?” – Dwyer looked up to the ceiling.

Mr Justice Hunt noted that some obvious, unanswered questions remain.

“There is only one person who knows, but he has done nothing but tell manifest untruths,” he said, looking towards Dwyer, who appeared slightly indignant.

Concept of closure

The judge considered the concept of “closure” for the O’Hara family. For himself, closure was “not a concept I can understand”, he said. The loss of a loved one, he thought, “can never be closed out”.

The only time Dwyer seemed moved was when Gemma, his “abused and misled” wife, was mentioned by the judge. He bowed his head deeply for long moments as the judge talked about “her pitiful, unenviable position” and noted that when the 083 phone was bought “to initiate this sexual relationship”, she was “a short number of days from giving birth to their second child. That should tell you all you need to know.”

He commended Gemma Dwyer’s press statement, offering commiserations to the O’Haras, as “a Christian and charitable act”.

As life for murder is mandatory, the judge had no discretion in the sentencing. But as he headed towards that point, he made a scathing reference to the media and “barstool psychiatry”, then said: “I don’t know what’s up with him. He’s in his place of denial . . . of arrogance . . . of delusion.”

The convicted man was not asked to stand for the sentencing. “So that’s it. Life it is,” said the judge.

Kathy Sheridan

Kathy Sheridan

Kathy Sheridan, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly opinion column