Convicted killer Stephen Penrose sentenced to life for murdering his friend

The decapitated remains of Philip Finnegan were found in a shallow grave in woods in Co Kildare
Convicted killer Stephen Penrose sentenced to life for murdering his friend

Alison O'Riordan

The mother of a man who was missing for three weeks before his decapitated remains were found in a shallow grave has said it was "not right" for her to be questioned at trial by her son's murderer.

Angela Finnegan, whose son Philip was murdered by Stephen Penrose, stressed that the double killer caused "more torture" to her family when he cross-examined her in the witness box.

She said no mother should have to sit in a witness box and be questioned by the man who murdered her son. "It's not right and shouldn't have happened. I believe in your twisted mind you sacked your legal team to cause more misery, heartache and agony on me and my family," she added.

Ms Finnegan also spoke of how she ensured hers were the last hands to touch her son's body, three weeks after he was murdered. "I suppose in a way I was trying to cleanse Philly's body of your evil vermin hands. No mother should have to do that," she said.

On day two of the case, Penrose, who was representing himself at the trial after dismissing his legal team, cross-examined Mrs Finnegan, where she told him she believed that another man was involved in the killing of her son. However, Mrs Finnegan also agreed with prosecution counsel, Brendan Grehan SC, that the person she referred to was in Portlaoise Prison at the time her son went missing.

Angela Finnegan, mother of murder victim Philip Finnegan, leaving the Central Criminal Court after she delivered her victim impact statement at the sentence hearing of Stephen Penrose, who was convicted last month of murdering Philip Finnegan. Photo: Collins

Life sentence

The testimony was heard as part of an emotional victim impact statement read today to the Central Criminal Court, where 38-year-old Penrose was sentenced to the mandatory term of life imprisonment for murdering his friend Mr Finnegan.

Last month, convicted killer Penrose of Newtown Court, Malahide Road, Coolock, Dublin 17 was found guilty by unanimous jury verdict of murdering Mr Finnegan (24) at Rahin Woods, Rahin, Edenderry, Co Kildare on August 10th, 2016. He had pleaded not guilty to the charge.

It was Penrose's second time to stand trial for murder. In 2010, a Central Criminal Court jury found the killer not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter after he admitted stabbing David Sharkey (28) to death in Navan following a row over drugs and then putting the body in the boot of a car. He was sentenced to nine years in prison for that offence.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster gave evidence at the trial that the decapitated remains of Mr Finnegan were found curled up in a foetal position in the grave and attempts had been made to burn his body. In the expert witness's view, Mr Finnegan's death was caused by multiple stab wounds to the body, including two fatal ones to his liver and aorta.

In her statement, Mrs Finnegan said that her family's life changed forever on August 10th, 2016, when "Philly" never came home. "The shock, panic and pain was unbearable. Three long weeks later Philly was found. God answered our prayers," she said.

Mrs Finnegan said that "the gruesome and horrific death" that Penrose had inflicted on Philip has left them "traumatised and scarred" for the rest of their lives. "We are not living, only existing. Philly was a son, father, brother and uncle. All our tomorrows were taken away," she continued.

She said that the "greatest gift in life is the heart of a child, my child".

'Evil vermin'

When Philip was born, she said, the midwife placed him on her chest. "I gave him his first kiss so I had to go and give my son his last kiss. I rubbed my hands all over my son's body, his mammy's hands were the last hands that touched my baby's body. I suppose in a way I was trying to cleanse Philly's body of your evil vermin hands. No mother should have to do that.

"I will never forget the smell that I had to endure when I had Philly's coffin opened to see him for the last time. Philly's coffin had to remain closed because his body was so badly decomposed.

"His brothers and sisters never got to kiss him goodbye as I was afraid of the psychological damage it would have had on them and his children. Philly wasn't yours to take, he was mine".

Referring to the five-week trial at the Central Criminal Court which commenced on October 13th, Mrs Finnegan said: "After all the pain you inflicted on our family by taking Philly from us, it wasn't enough for you. During the trial you had to cause more torture when you cross-examined me in the witness box."

She said no mother should have to sit in a witness box and be questioned by the man who murdered her son, before continuing: "It's not right and shouldn't have happened. I believe in your twisted mind you sacked your legal team to cause more misery, heartache and agony on me and my family."

Family's pain

Speaking of her family's love for Philip, Mrs Finnegan said the pain doesn't get any easier five years on. "Philly had a heart of gold and would always help anybody in need. I miss his infectious smile, heart of gold and all the laughter, chats and hugs and the 'I love you ma'. I love you my son."

In a second victim impact statement entitled "Our Daddy", Mrs Finnegan said that the deceased has four "beautiful children" but his youngest son never got to meet his father as he was not born by the time Philip died.

"His new son was born in February 2017. Philly loved his children with all his heart and was the sole carer for his kids at the time of his death.

"The children still don't understand why their daddy had to go to heaven. Philly's children attend therapy to help them with the loss of their father. The kids are missing out on so much. They have to rely on uncles to bring them to football matches and their nanny to attend other activities with them.

"When they are playing at home with their cousins and they call their daddy, I see the look on their little faces, they have no daddy to call. It's so heartbreaking.

"Philly has missed out on lifetime events and so have they as he is not here to share special moments and experiences with them. Philly's children do not know how he died but one day soon I will have to tell them how their daddy died so violently. I don't know the impact it's going to have on them. All I can do for now is love them and look after them as best I can," she concluded.

Mrs Finnegan then thanked several people including those who found her son's body in Rahin Woods in August 2016.

Following this, Mr Justice Alexander Owens sentenced Penrose to the mandatory term of life imprisonment for murder. The sentence was backdated to May 17th, 2017, when he went into custody.

Address to court

Penrose, who was present in court for his sentence hearing, told the judge that he would like to address the court. "You don't get to speak at this particular time," replied Mr Justice Owens.

Earlier, Superintendent Brian O'Keeffe told the court that Penrose's previous convictions include the manslaughter of David Sharkey for which he was sentenced to nine years imprisonment. His release date for that offence was February 5th, 2016.

His other previous convictions include possession of two shotguns and ammunition, a hit and run offence, three assaults on three prison officers and threatening to kill or cause serious harm to members of the prison service.

Mr Justice Owens asked Mr Grehan if Penrose was still serving these sentences at the time of his trial. In reply, Mr Grehan said that the defendant had indicated to the court that he did not think he was serving these sentences at the date of the trial but that the accused had been continually in custody since May 17th, 2017. Supt O'Keeffe told the judge that he didn't disagree with this.

Last month, the 12 jurors unanimously rejected Penrose's defence that he had last seen Mr Finnegan being stabbed in the back during an attack by a group of men at "a forest" or "close to a wood", having arranged to collect firearms from them.

The jury accepted the prosecution's case that Mr Finnegan had met "a gruesome death" at the hands of Penrose and attempts had been made to cut up and burn the victim's body. In his opening speech, counsel for the DPP, Mr Grehan, said Penrose told "lie after lie" to gardai about where he had last seen Mr Finnegan to "keep them from discovering the location of the body and put them off the scent of Rahin Woods".

The trial heard that Mr Finnegan was missing for just over three weeks before a dog walker and his two pets found his "skeletonised" remains buried in Rahin Woods on September 2nd, 2016.

Evidence was given by the pathologist that the majority of the 13 stab wounds were to Mr Finnegan's back.

The identity of the father-of-four was confirmed by fingerprint after skin that had "slipped away" from a finger was recovered from the soil of the gravesite.

A forensic scientist gave evidence that a DNA profile generated from a bloodied glove discovered near Mr Finnegan's remains matched the DNA of Penrose.

Legal teams sacked

The accused dispensed with two legal teams during the trial and on occasion would "re-engage" them only to "once again dismiss" their services.

In the absence of the jury, Mr Justice Owens said he regarded these "hirings and firings" as serious abuses of the legal system and any litigant allowed "willy nilly" to fire counsel in that fashion "was simply not on".

Whilst representing himself at trial, Penrose had an "outburst" in the courtroom and accused a garda Inspector, who he was cross-examining, of lying under oath. "He is telling bullshit about me," Penrose shouted, before demanding that the witness be "dismissed" from his trial as his "word" could not be accepted.

Penrose refused to continue attending his trial after this and said he would represent himself "from the cells". The defendant called his trial a "miscarriage of justice" and said he had no confidence in his former legal teams carrying out his instructions. The case proceeded for the next four weeks in his absence.

Penrose, who had previously refused to call evidence in his defence or to give a closing speech, had asked not to be present in the courtroom for the verdict.

Last known movements

Mr Finnegan was last seen alive with Penrose at Sweeney's filling station in Edenderry, Co Offaly on the afternoon of August 10th. Rahin Woods, where the deceased's remains were discovered by a man out walking his two dogs 23 days later, is a few kilometres north of the filling station.

It was the prosecution's case that Penrose murdered Mr Finnegan shortly after he was seen leaving the garage in the accused's blue Alfa Romeo car, which had a distinctive dark-coloured bonnet and alloy wheels. CCTV footage showed two people travelling in the car past Grangewest in Co Kildare and in the direction of Rahin Woods at 4.10pm that day.

The same blue car was next seen on CCTV footage at 5.13pm at Balrinnet in Co. Kildare, which is a short distance to the east of Rahin Woods. The prosecution case was that Mr Finnegan went into Rahin Woods with Penrose after 4.10pm, where he met his "gruesome death" in that one hour interval.

Evidence was also given that Penrose's phone connected to a cell site, which covered the area of Rahin in Edenderry, and is close to the area where the victim’s body was found. The last activity on the deceased's phone identified two cell sites in Edenderry on the same afternoon.

Penrose was first arrested on August 31st, 2016 for withholding information in relation to a serious assault on Mr Finnegan and interviewed on ten occasions at Kilmainham Garda Station.

The accused had told gardai in these interviews that he and Mr Finnegan met a number of men in a black car that day. Penrose maintained that a man had stabbed him in the left arm through the driver's window before Mr Finnegan was "bundled" into the black car. The accused said he then drove off at speed.

Penrose went on to tell gardaí that he heard his missing friend was "sitting in Jamaica eating a Big Mac" and that he had been "chopped up" in the Dublin mountains. The defendant insisted that he would not be going on trial for "any Finnegans."

"Put me in custody. I'll be swinging on a rope. I don't know anything," he said.

After the remains of Mr Finnegan were discovered, Penrose was rearrested on November 16th, 2016 on suspicion of murdering his friend on August 10th and interviewed on nine occasions at Leixlip Garda Station. In his first interview, he produced a handwritten statement to gardaí saying: "I had nothing to do with Philip's killing. All this had nothing whatsoever to do with me and that's why I tried to distance myself from it".

Throughout his 19 interviews, the accused gave at least five different locations to detectives of where he had last seen Mr Finnegan. Penrose initially said that both he and Mr Finnegan got attacked by the group of men on the outskirts of Kilcock in Co Kildare.

However, it was not until his 18th interview that Penrose told detectives that he saw Mr Finnegan being stabbed in the back at "a forest" or "close to a wood", having arranged to collect firearms from the group of men.

Officers asked Penrose in his final interview if he had Mr Finnegan "dig his own grave" in the Kildare woodlands where his body was eventually discovered. "You came fully prepared: you came with your fork, your spade, came with your gloves, you came with your petrol can, you came with your knife. Did you have him dig his own grave?" asked gardai.

In his charge to the jury, Mr Justice Owens said the State's case was that the "only logical explanation" for the accused's lies was that he did not want to disclose the location of where he left Mr Finnegan in Rahin Woods as this would lead gardai to discovering the body.

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