The burnt out residence of Oliver Murray (deceased) at Cavan Road, Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

Serial arsonist jailed for manslaughter of uncle

A serial arsonist who killed his uncle after setting his Cavan home ablaze in an act of revenge has been jailed for seven-and-a half-years for manslaughter.

The court was previously told that the defendant Daniel Murray was more concerned about the welfare of the family dog when informed that a body had been discovered in the burnt-out home.

Sentencing Murray at the Central Criminal Court yesterday (Tuesday), Mr Justice Paul McDermott said the accused held "a degree of animus" from time to time against his uncle Patrick Oliver Murray and he had demonstrated a level of indifference to what happened that night.

Daniel Murray (40) was charged with the murder of Patrick Oliver Murray on August 2, 2018, at Derrylurgan, Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan after telling gardaí the house “went up like a matchbox” when he set fire to some sheets with a lighter.

He denied the murder charge when he appeared before Mr Justice McDermott at the Central Criminal Court earlier this month, admitting manslaughter instead.

Murray, of no fixed abode, also admitted arson intending to endanger the life of another, at the same date and place. His plea was accepted by the State at a hearing last September.

The court heard that Murray has 48 previous convictions, several of which were for arson attacks carried out at nearby properties.

Before delivering the sentence, Mr Justice McDermott said he had received a number of reports concerning the defendant including a probation report, a psychological assessment and a letter of apology from him for the death of his uncle.

Passing sentence, the judge said Murray held a degree of animus against his uncle from time to time but he had no intention to kill him. "The situation the uncle faced was appalling, he was left in a house where the fire started," he added.

The judge said the facts underpinning the case suggested a level of offending of "a very serious and reckless kind" and it was unfortunate that his uncle had gone to sleep in the house that night.

Regarding the defendant, Mr Justice McDermott said he had demonstrated a level of indifference as to what happened that night and by what he did in the aftermath of the fire.

Despite Murray expressing his remorse for the incident, the judge said the nature and extent of the offending was of a "very serious kind", which had led to the death of his uncle and the taking of a life. Furthermore, he said, circumstances were made all the more serious by the accused's history of violence and his behaviour for setting fire to people's property.

Having regard to the gravity of the offence, the judge said there was a very high degree of recklessness involved as to what Murray did that night, when set against his background of setting fire to other places including neighbours' hedges, gardens or trees. "These are very disturbing elements and I'm taking that into account in setting the appropriate penalty in this case," he said.

Referring to the "very moving" victim impact statement, Mr Justice McDermott said the deceased Patrick Oliver Murray was brought to life "in quite a moving way" and that he had been described as quite a good-humoured man.

A victim impact from the deceased’s eldest brother was read to the court earlier this month by prosecution counsel James Dwyer SC.

Mr Liam Murray said he had “great memories” of his brother, whom he described as “quiet but good humoured”. He said his brother had stayed in the family home to look after their mother after his siblings had left to raise their families.

Although he said his brother had a “drinking problem”, he also described him as an “absolute gentleman” who would often trim their neighbours’ hedges and clear their driveways of snow.

“There was always a bed at Oliver’s for Daniel,” Liam Murray said. “I keep asking myself why? Why did he do it?”

Liam Murray also revealed the family can no longer drive past the house where they once stayed because of the painful memories the property now holds.

The judge also pointed out today that the defendant had benefited from his uncle's generosity when he was allowed to stay in his house and that was how he came to be there that night. "There was always a bed offered for Daniel and that's the type of man Patrick Oliver was," he added.

The aggravating factors in the case included Daniel Murray's high level of culpability, the terrible damage caused, the defendant's previous convictions and the nature of those convictions. Other factors included how the defendant behaved having set fire to the house as well as his virtual indifference to his uncle's welfare in the knowledge that he was in a vulnerable position in the house.

Mr Justice McDermott set the headline sentence at 12 years.

In mitigation, the judge noted his guilty plea to manslaughter, his sincere remorse for killing his uncle and the fact he is an alcoholic and drug abuser. The accused, he said, had also displayed stability and sobriety when serving his most recent sentence.

In addition, the court heard that Murray is also engaged with addiction services and open to residential and community support. "From the reports I have read he appears to be able to achieve and thrive when he is sober," he continued.

Murray was sentenced to nine years in prison with the final 18 months suspended for a period of 18 months. It was backdated to when he went into custody on August 3, 2021.

Sentencing hearing

At last week's sentence hearing on January 17, Detective Sergeant Arthur O’Connor agreed with prosecution counsel James Dwyer SC that the accused had been staying with his uncle at the time of this offence and was located by a neighbour at his parent’s house shortly after the blaze had been extinguished by fire crews.

On being told his uncle had lost his life in the fire, Murray, the neighbour said, didn’t appear too concerned and only asked about the welfare of the dog.

A post-mortem later reported that Mr Murray had died from the effects of smoke inhalation.

Det Sgt O’Connor also told the court that when the accused had returned to the scene he said that a “murder” had taken place.

The garda agreed with Mr Dwyer that Murray had been pointing to a group of people who had gathered outside the house when he shouted: “Look at the relations, all talking and staring. Just because there has been a murder. Parasites.”

Mr Dwyer told the court that two weeks later the accused had been discussing the fatal fire with his father, Chris Murray, when he admitted to starting the blaze.

“He just came out and told me he did it,” the father said in a statement to gardaí, which was read out in court.

“He didn’t give a reason and didn’t seem upset.”

Det Sgt O’Connor further agreed with Mr Dwyer that Murray told investigating officers he started the fire "to get back at Oliver".

“I wanted to take it out of the house, but it went the wrong way,” he said.

“I knew him better than anyone else. There was a badness in him. He is better off dead.”

Det Sgt O’Connor also agreed with Mr Dwyer that Murray had also told gardaí that he only wanted “to frighten” his uncle and he never meant to kill him.

“If I could turn back time, I would. He would be here and he would be well,” the accused told gardaí.

Defence counsel Patrick McGrath SC said Murray had “unintentionally but recklessly brought about the death of his late uncle”.

He said it was a tragic case and that his client had “never intended to cause this awful harm”.

Although he said his client’s life had been “blighted through the years” by alcohol, this wasn’t an excuse for his behaviour but was being offered as an explanation.

Mr McGrath said his client had accepted responsibility for his actions and that he had been drinking heavily hours before setting the house ablaze.

Det Sgt O’Connor agreed with Mr McGrath that it was “fair to say” that the accused was a “very different man” when he was drunk.