Man gets life for 'callous killing' of his wife

 

A 34-year-old man who pleaded guilty to the murder of his wife four years ago was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Central Criminal Court yesterday.

Before sentencing by Mr Justice Paul Carney, Colin Whelan expressed his "sorrow for taking Mary away from her family". Whelan said he was a "person of cowardice" and "I accept full responsibility for Mary's death".

Whelan, Clonard Street, Balbriggan, Co Dublin, was accused of the murder of 27-year-old Mary Whelan (née Gough) at their home between February 28th and March 1st, 2001.

Defence counsel Hugh Hartnett SC read a statement to the court on behalf of the accused man in which he said: "There are no words to explain my act."

To his wife's mother, Whelan said: "I apologise for taking your daughter, friend and soulmate so unnecessarily."

Before passing sentence of mandatory life imprisonment, Mr Justice Carney said the murder was "the most calculated and callous killing" he had ever witnessed in his entire time in court.

In normal circumstances, Mr Justice Carney said, he would backdate the sentence to the time already spent in custody, but since the accused man had absconded from the State he would not.

Mr Justice Carney said he offered Whelan an immediate trial after he was extradited back from Spain last July, where he had been living a double life, but he declined. This "prolonged the suffering of Mary's family and prevented any closures for the family". The date of sentence for mandatory life would commence from yesterday, the judge told Whelan as he stood with head bowed.

Supt Tom Gallagher, Balbriggan, said Mary Whelan had been working in a solicitor's office in Swords at the time of her death and was highly regarded by her colleagues.

The accused and the deceased, prosecutor George Birmingham SC told the court, first met in 1993. In 1995 the couple "hit a bad patch" but got back together after a few months. In 1997 Whelan purchased a house in Clonard Street, Balbriggan, from a relative and in 1998 the couple got engaged and were married in 2000.

In the time leading to the murder on February 28th, 2001, Supt Gallagher told the court, the couple had gone together to Drogheda where they were participating in a detox programme with a homeopath and then returned home to Clonard Street. At 12.16am on March 1st, a 999 call was made indicating an ambulance was needed.

The person who took the 999 call was told by Whelan that his wife had fallen down the stairs and was seriously injured. After an ambulance crew arrived Ms Whelan was transferred to Beaumont Hospital.

"A number of doctors were struck by the fact that she was particularly cold to touch, and this brought into question the time-frame which Mr Whelan had told the ambulance crew", Mr Birmingham told the court.

"Dr Ali, who inserted a tube into Ms Gough's trachea, noticed marks on her neck and chest that were not consistent with a fall down the stairs."

At Beaumont Hospital, Sister Catherine Galvin noticed marks on Whelan's chest and brought them to the attention of gardaí, the prosecutor said.

State Pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy concluded there was a ligature mark on the right side of the dead woman's neck, and she was in no doubt that the cause of death was asphyxiation involving a ligature.

Dr Cassidy said a fall downstairs would normally involve head injuries, and none of that nature was found on the deceased, the prosecutor told the court. Whelan suggested his wife might have snagged her dressing gown on the banisters and fallen.

The scene, Supt Gallagher said, was forensically examined, and blood staining was discovered in the master bedroom and landing. The dressing gown and the belt attached to it were discovered in the bedroom. "There was blood in the centre of the belt, and this came from the deceased's ligature which was used to commit the murder," Supt Gallagher said.

Whelan had his own company providing services to the IT department of the Irish Permanent on St Stephen's Green. Gardaí took possession of the computer he used and traced the internet history of his searches. On February 28th, 2001, Whelan looked up searches for "Loss of Consciousness" and "Sudden Loss of Consciousness". On February 22nd he had searched for the term "Death by Strangulation". On January 22nd he had carried out six searches including "Choking", "Smothering" and "Blocking the Air Supply".

Supt Gallagher said Whelan was arrested and charged on April 10th, 2001.

On March 12th, 2003, his car was found at Howth Head. "It was presumed he had taken his own life." In July 2004, Supt Gallagher said, the accused man was traced to Majorca and had been in custody since his return.