Hike sentence

Raymond O’Neill, a West Belfast man, sentenced to life for the murder of Jennifer Dornan

West Belfast man Raymond O’Neill was today sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of the murder of Jennifer Dornan.

After five hours of deliberation, a jury at Belfast Crown Court returned unanimous guilty verdicts for murder and arson.

As Ms Dornan’s friends and family began to cheer in the public gallery as the guilty verdicts were handed down, O’Neill showed no emotion.

Jennifer Dornan, mother of three, was murdered in August 2015

Ms Dornan’s mother Teresa and sister Claire, who attended the eight-week trial each day with other loved ones, said: ‘After seven long years, we finally got justice for our beautiful Jennifer.

Despite her claims of innocence, the jury found that O’Neill (47) followed Jennifer Dornan to her home in Hazel View in the early hours of Sunday, August 2, 2015.

She was captured on CCTV of her neighbor walking home with her shoes in her hand at 2.53am on Sunday August 2, 2015.

She had spent the evening before socializing at Devenish, before returning to a friend’s house on Lagmore Avenue.

Raymond O’Neill has been found guilty of murdering mother-of-three Jennifer Dornan

O’Neill, who did not know Mrs. Dornan until the weekend, was also present at this address.

The same camera captured O’Neill – who was then 37 and living in a studio apartment in Amcomri Street – holding a jacket over his face walking along Hazel View at 3.12am.

Once inside her Lagmore home, O’Neill stabbed the 30-year-old mother of three in the chest three times before setting her bedroom on fire in an attempt to destroy evidence.

After murdering Ms Dornan, O’Neill fled to Donegal – but was arrested in Bundoran five days after the murder.

Following the guilty verdicts, the trial judge, Judge Scoffield, addressed O’Neill and said: “Mr. O’Neill, you have been found guilty by the jury of the offense of murder and, by law, only one sentence is available to me for that offence.

“Your sentence will be life imprisonment.”

In a sometimes harrowing hearing, the jury heard how Ms Dornan’s charred remains were discovered in her bedroom.

This discovery was made by members of the fire and rescue service who were called in to tackle the blaze early in the morning.

File photo 4/8/2015.Police are carrying out a fresh search at the scene in Hazel View, Lagmore following the death of mother-of-three Jennifer Dornan. Photo by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

During the two-month trial, witnesses called included a teenage girl who nearly came face-to-face with O’Neill just minutes after killing Ms Dornan.

The then 13-year-old girl was staying with her friend at the house next door to Mrs Dornan’s but left her friend’s house and walked along Hazel View at 4.21 a.m. feeling ill and took a taxi home.

Just three minutes earlier, CCTV captured O’Neill leaving Ms Dornan’s house and walking towards White Glen, where he threw the kitchen knife he used to murder Ms Dornan into the back garden of a house.

Other witnesses called to testify were friends who were in Ms Dornan’s company in the hours leading up to her murder.

A friend of O’Neill’s also testified and recalled seeing blood on the defendant’s hand after an early morning meeting in an alley.

The witness said that this meeting took place on Sunday, August 2, and that afterwards he and O’Neill went to his mother’s house where more drink was consumed.

During the sixth week of the trial, a new witness came forward after reading a newspaper article about the case.

This witness – a former partner of O’Neill’s nephew Shane – testified via video link and said that in August 2015 she was still with Shane, and that around 5 a.m. on Sunday August 2, O ‘Neill called them and woke them up.

The Belfast mother-of-one said Shane opened the door, and when O’Neill entered she heard the two men talking in the hallway.

When asked what she heard, the witness said: “I heard Raymond come through the door and he told Shane he had killed someone and Shane asked what he wanted say by he had killed someone, why would he have done that.

“Raymond O’Neill’s response was that it wasn’t him, it was the drink and the drugs that made him do this.”

O’Neill – who attended the court in a wheelchair – also gave evidence and denied murdering Ms Dornan.

Instead, he argued that due to a stroke caused by poisoning by prison staff in October 2015, he lost his memory.

This total memory loss, he claimed, included the weekend of August 1/2, 2015.

O’Neill denied stabbing her and then setting her bedroom on fire.

When shown CCTV of the killer walking along Hazel View with his face obscured by his coat, he said the man in the footage was not him.

He told the jury: “I was not the person who committed this murder. I had nothing to do with his murder. I was not there.”

He also claimed he had no recollection of his arrest in Bundoran – which he again attributed to poisoning in prison.

However, his version of events was rejected by the jury who found him guilty of both murder and arson.

Judge Scoffield thanked the six men and women for their dedication and excused them from jury service for the rest of their lives.

As the jury left the court, Ms Dornan’s family and friends stood and applauded them.

The eight-week trial ended when the judge told O’Neill there would be a tariff hearing on June 24 where it will be determined how long he will spend in jail before being considered eligible for release by parole board.

Speaking in court, Ms Dornan’s mother Teresa Donnelly welcomed today’s verdict and said she was happy the ‘predator’ was now behind bars and facing a long sentence.

Ms Donnelly – who is now the guardian of her daughter’s three children – said justice had finally been served.

She also revealed that her much loved and missed daughter.

“Jennifer was a wonderful, beautiful person,” Ms. Donnelly said. “She was so caring, she was just the best daughter to me and the best mom to her three kids.

“She was the most bubbly, friendliest girl I’ve ever known. She brightened up a dull, boring day – that was just her.

“We have lots of photos of Jennifer but I find it hard to look at them. When I see a photo of her I see blood and I think of the pain. She must have been in so much pain and so scared and that’s something I can’t stop thinking about.”

Saying the past seven years since her daughter’s death has been a ‘nightmare’, Ms Donnelly said: ‘I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through what we have.

She also revealed that she found the eight-week trial “difficult”.

She said: “Me and my daughter Claire haven’t been sleeping properly and eating properly since the start of the trial.

“Sitting in court and listening to what I heard…I just can’t understand how anyone can do what they did to another human.

“O’Neill is a predator who preys on girls. I’m so glad he’s been in jail for a long time now because I honestly think he’ll do it again.

“I will never forgive him for what he did to my Jennifer and leaving those three kids without their mom.”