A convicted murderer will be sentenced next week for impeding the investigation into the murder of another man who had found out about the first killing.
Jonathan Duke (27) was strangled to death at Bridge House, Sean Hales Place, Bandon, Co Cork on November 12th, 2011. His body was then thrown into the nearby River Bandon river.
Just 24 hours earlier, a resident of the building, 42-year-old John Forrester, had met a similar fate.
Jonathan Duke, a father-of-one, was visiting Mr Forrester’s murderers there when he became aware of what had happened the previous day. Gardai believe he was killed because he had knowledge of the first murder.
Mr Forrester’s former girlfriend, mother-of-three Catherine O’Connor, is currently serving life in prison for both murders. Her boyfriend at the time of the killings, Ciprian Grozavu (47), denied murdering both men and went on trial for their murders separately.
The Romanian father-of-one was found guilty of both murders and sentenced to life in prison. However, he appealed his murder conviction in the case of Mr Duke and the Court of Appeal quashed it and ordered a retrial.
The trial took place at the Central Criminal Court in Limerick earlier in the summer. He was acquitted of murder by the jury upon direction of the judge. However, he was found guilty by a unanimous jury of two counts of impeding the apprehension or prosecution of another.
Detective Sergeant Ann Murphy today (Tuesday) summarised his crime in relation to Mr Duke. She said that the occupants of another flat in Bridge House arrived home after 10 o’clock that night and heard an apparent row in a neighbouring flat.
One of the witnesses then heard the occupants of that flat outside their door. He heard Catherine O’Connor say to Ciprian Grozavu, who was known as Chippy: “Just pull him will you, Chippy. He’s dead anyway.”
The witnesses then looked out their window and saw O’Connor and Grozavu carrying a body, before throwing it over a railing towards the River Bandon.
They said the two were cheering and laughing as they came back inside.
Meanwhile, their neighbours got dressed, went out and saw pools of blood in the halls and stairs. They fled the building and rang 999 to report what they had seen.
When Gardai arrived, they followed a trail of blood up flights of stairs to Grozavu’s flat. He claimed the blood was his and indicated a number of small abrasions to his face and hands, but eventually admitted it was Mr Duke’s blood.
The gardaí later discovered Mr Duke’s body floating in the river. A previous trial heard that the body had more than 100 separate injuries, after being beaten and stabbed.
Grozavu then told garda that he’d been asleep earlier and that three men, including Mr Duke, had entered his home and attacked him with a variety of weapons including a sword and a hammer.
He later admitted disposing of the body with O’Connor.
Under cross examination by Lorcan Staines SC, defending, D Sgt Murphy agreed that his client had claimed that he was afraid of O’Connor and her brothers. She also agreed that these would be considered violent people and all had serious convictions for violence.
The family’s garda liaison officer, Sergeant O’Leary, read out a victim impact statement prepared by Mr Duke’s family.
In it, his sisters wrote that they think of Mr Duke last thing at night and first thing in the morning.
A young, fit man with his life ahead of him, he liked to write and draw.
“Nothing can compare to the love that we share,” he once wrote to his family.
They noted that it was almost 10 years since he was murdered and that it was heart-breaking.
“He was thrown into the River Bandon by his so-called friends,” they wrote. “We cannot imagine why his life had to end in such a cruel and evil way.” They pointed out that the convicted can have visitors and phone calls but they were afraid they’d forget their brother’s voice.
“We feel pain every day,” they wrote.
They explained that his mother, Michelle, had sadly passed away in December.
“He was the only man in our lives for a very long time,” they said, describing him as a father figure as well as a brother. A caring person, he would now be an uncle to a baby boy and girl, they added.
“We feel the physical pain in our hearts since the day he was taken from us,” they said.
Mr Duke was also a very proud father to his daughter, Angel, who is now 18.
A child at the time of her father’s murder, she had described feeling sad at school when others would talk of their Dads.
“She has not gone back to the riverside, all down through the years,” wrote her aunts of the area where she and her Dad would feed the ducks.
The statement continued that Mr Duke was cared for as a baby in the same flat at Bridge House, and the family described it as a ‘strange twist of fate’ that this was where he was attacked, strangled and murdered.
They said that this last trial was the hardest for the family.
“Watching the cctv footage, we wanted to pluck Jonathan off the screen and bring him back home,” they wrote. “We will never forget. We will never forgive.” They said that their mother, Michelle, was working in a nearby restaurant as her son was being murdered.
“Her life ended without knowing the outcome of this trial, without knowing the truth,” they said.
The court heard that Grozavu had 13 previous convictions. Along with his murder conviction, he also had convictions for assault causing harm, harassment, stalking, possession of knives, drunk driving and careless driving.
Mr Staines pointed out that the accused has now served nine and a half years in prison and that the maximum sentence for this crime is 10 years. He also pointed out that there’s no power to make any ordinary sentence consecutive to a life sentence.
He explained that there is currently an appeal in relation to the murder of Mr Forrester.
Mr. Justice Michael MacGrath Said he would hand down sentence on Tuesday next.