Woman reveals 50 year battle to clear brother's murder charge

Ireland’s own Making a Murderer: Widow whose brother was beaten to death after he and her husband were falsely accused of murdering a teenager reveals her 50-year battle to clear their names

  • Ann Donnelly’s brother and husband were falsely accused of killing a teenager 
  • Martin Kerrigan was accused of the murdering 19-year-old Una Lynskey in 1971
  • His friends Martin Conmey and Dick Donnelly were also arrested for the crime
  • Gardaí allegedly ‘coerced’ them into signing confessions in custody
  • Kerrigan was killed by two of Una’s brothers and her cousin in an act of revenge
  • Conmey served three years behind bars for manslaughter but was acquitted 
  • Ann is now campaigning for justice and to clear Donnelly and Kerrigan’s names 

The sister of a man falsely accused of murder has called for an apology from the Irish police 50 years after he was beaten to death by the victim’s family.

Ann Donnelly’s brother Martin Kerrigan was one of three men the Gardaí accused of murdering  19-year-old Una Lynskey, who had gone missing after walking home from the bus stop to her Co Meath home in October 1971.   

Police focused their investigation on Martin, then 19, his friend Martin Conmey, then 20, and Ann’s husband Dick Donnelly, then 23, who had all been in the area that night.   

Kerrigan and Conmey were allegedly forced into signing confessions after being beaten by officers who coerced a confession from them – claims the Gardai deny – but Donnelly refused to sign. 

Two months later, in December, Una’s body was found in the mountains, and her brothers and cousins beat Kerrigan to death as an act of revenge.

Conmey and Donnelly were later later charged and found guilty of the manslaughter of Una, but Donnelly had his case overturned.

Meanwhile Conmey spent three years behind bars before he was released. In 2010, he was acquitted of the manslaughter by the Court of Criminal Appeal. 

Now Ann is fighting for a public apology for her late husband Donnelly, who passed away last year, and her brother Martin – who died before he could have his name cleared. 

Ann told the Irish Sun: ‘We were being harassed everyday. There’d be people pulling over at our house and shouting ‘murderers’, blowing the horn, writing ‘murderer’ on the ground and sending cards with hangman. 

‘We reported it all and maybe if someone had done something about it, they would have stopped and Marty might never have died.’ 

Ann’s comments come as the case is examined by RTE in a new documentary called Crimes and Confessions, examining miscarriages of justice. 

The story may remind many of the gripping Netflix crime drama Making A Murderer, which saw Steven Avery spend 18 years in jail for a rape he did not commit, only to be arrested along with Brendan Dassey for murder. 

Ann Donnelly’s  (pictured) brother Martin Kerrigan who was falsely accused of murder has called for an apology from the Irish police 50 years after he was beaten to death by the victim’s family 

Police focused their investigation on Martin, then 19, his friend Martin Conmey, then 20, and Ann’s husband Dick Donnelly, then 23, who had all been in the area that night (pictured, Conmey and Kerrigan) 

19-year-old Una had a boyfriend and was working at the Land Commission on Merrion Street in Dublin when she went missing on October 12 1971.

She travelled to-and-from the city with her cousin Anne Gaughan, who was the last person to have see her that night after the women went home separately.

At first, when Una failed to arrive home for supper, her mother thought she had gone to Ann’s house.

Una Lynskey, who was working in Dublin at the time of her death, went missing in October 1971 and her body was discovered in The Mountains two months later. Her killer has never been found

However concerns quickly escalated and the alarm was raised. 

Ann’s father Patrick reported hearing screams in a nearby field, while other witnesses said they had seen a stranger driving a large dark Ford Zephyr erratically.

One witness claimed to have seen a woman struggling in the car. 

Even though Kerrigan, Conmey and Donnelly didn’t have criminal records, and all three had alibis for the night, the Gardaí solely focussed their investigation on the three men.

Speaking to the Sunday World, Conmey said: ‘We just happened to be in the area at the same time more or less.’

After a night out on October 24, the men were visited by local and murder squad gardai the following day. 

They were then interrogated by police for weeks, despite not being charged with the crime. 

In a 2018 interview with the Irish Times, Dick explained how they were interviewed by a group called The Heavy Squad, saying: ‘They interrogated us in sessions.

‘Two would start interrogating you. When they were finished, two more took over.

‘When they were finished, there would be another two. I was falling asleep in the chair.’

He recalled how the interviews would take place throughout the night and into the early morning. 

He explained: ‘At one point I fell asleep and one of the detectives gave me a whack across the face that knocked me to the ground.’

Ireland’s Making a Murderer: How three innocent men were ‘coerced’ into confessing to a crime they didn’t commit  

October 12 1971 –  19-year-old Una Lynskey went missing after walking home from the bus stop to her Co Meath home.

Her uncle reports hearing screams from a nearby field, while other witnesses claim they saw a car driving erratically in the area 

Gardai are called in to help search for her.

October 19 – The Murder Squad are called in 

October 24 – Martin Kerrigan, Martin Conmey, and Dick Donnelly enjoy a night on the town 

October 25 – The men are first visited by local and murder squad gardai 

They are interrogated for weeks by The Heavy Squad, who they allege coerced them into making false confessions and interviewed them through the night

November – All three men were arrested

December 10 – Una’s body was found in the Mountains 

December 19 – Kerrigan was bundled into a car by Sean and James Lynskey and John Gaughn.

He was beaten to death before being left in the Mountains.

The Lynskeys and Gaughn are charged with manslaughter for Kerrigan and sentenced to three years.

Meanwhile Donnelly and Conmey are charged with manslaughter for Una’s death and sentenced to three years in prison.

Seven months on, Donnelly wins an appeal to have his case overturned.

1974 – Conmey is released from prison

2010 – Conmey was acquitted of the manslaughter by the Court of Criminal Appeal, 38 years after he was jailed. 

2014 – Conmey was given a miscarriage of justice certificate and compensation

He said the pressure was immense for the three ‘naive’ men, explaining: ‘We didn’t feel like we were free to go.’  

Ann insisted a quick police search would have cleared the boy’s names almost straight away.

She said: ‘Everywhere they were that night, even picking up a girlfriend, they had verified as being in all those places.’

She added the trio even told the police that they saw a car with a briefcase and papers thrown around in the seat – and that multiple people saw a suspect in his 40s or 50s driving it.  

She explained: ‘All this was said to gardai but was not followed up and they just focused on them.’ 

The force insisted that Dick had a car similar to the one seen on the lane the night Una was abducted.  

Ann explained how her brother had only signed a police confession to be able to go home.  

Meanwhile Conmey explained: ‘Myself and Marty signed confessions, but purely under duress.

‘It was step by step, the guards were kind of nearly putting words in our mouths, kind of leading questions.’ 

The forced confessions leaked to the community, with the families then targeted with vandalism and abuse.  

And on December 10, Una’s body was found in the Mountains after a workman mistook her skull for a sheep’s skeleton.

Nine days later, Kerrigan was bundled into a car by her brothers, Sean and James, and her cousin, John Gaughn.

He was beaten to death, with signs of an attempted castration, before being left in the Dublin Mountains.  

Ann recalled how guards knocked down her parents door at 3am to say his body had been found and they needed to identify him. 

She explained: ‘We were huddled together crying. 

‘We had to try and get word to our brother and sister in England and asked could they wait until our brother got home that night to identify him. 

‘But they said no, my older sister Eileen had to do it and she still finds it very hard.’

After killing Kerrigan, the Lynskey brothers and Gaughan gave themselves up and were tried and convicted.

The three men were all found guilty of manslaughter for Kerrigan’s death, despite having carried a knife during the attack.

Ann said: ‘They went out with a knife, how can you go out with a knife and say it is manslaughter? 

‘They mutilated him and beat him. All those lives ruined.’   

Conmey spent three years behind bars on the manslaughter charge and in 2010, he was acquitted of the manslaughter by the Court of Criminal Appeal, 38 years after he was jailed. In 2014, he was given a miscarriage of justice certificate and compensation. He is pictured with his wife after being acquitted 

Ann’s comments come as the case is examined by RTE in a new documentary called Crimes and Confessions, examining miscarriages of justice 

Meanwhile there was increasing pressure on gardai to secure a conviction for Donnelly and Conmey. 

The men were charged with manslaughter for Una’s death and sentenced to three years in prison.

Seven months later, Donnelly’s case was overturned on appeal. Meanwhile Conmey spent three years behind bars on the manslaughter charge.

In 2010, he was acquitted of the manslaughter by the Court of Criminal Appeal, 38 years after he was jailed. 

In 2014, he was given a miscarriage of justice certificate and compensation. 

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris wrote to Conmey in relation to the case, and apologised for the pain and loss.

Ann is now fighting to clear both her late brother and husband’s names because both men died before receiving an apology for what happened (pictured, with her sister Katy) 

However neither Donnelly nor Kerrigan have ever received an apology or acknowledgement for the miscarriage of justice.

The Gardai have also denied any abuse in custody, the case remains closed, and Una’s killer has never been found. Her cause of death also remains unknown. 

Donnelly died last year, and Ann is now fighting to clear both her late brother and husband’s names.

Ann said that all she’s looking for now is an ‘apology for what happened’.    

‘Every time I go down to the grave I say to him, ‘We will never ever stop fighting until we clear your name’ and we never will.

‘We never got any apology, we never even got an acknowledgement that he was killed in the wrong.  

Conmey and Donnelly were found guilty of the manslaughter of Una and sent to prison, but Donnelly had his case overturned. Conmey is pictured – he served 3 years in jail

Conmey has said he wouldn’t ‘rest’ till there was a public enquiry into the miscarriage of justice (pictured) 

‘Dick died on October 22. He didn’t get to do an interview but he took part in the documentary and his voice will be used.

‘That will be very hard for us, but it has to be done. I know he is looking down and he is helping us.’ 

And speaking on RTE radio Conmey said he wouldn’t ‘rest’ till there was a public enquiry into the miscarriage of justice.

He said:  ‘I kind of blamed myself for making statements about something that didn’t happen and I kept knocking myself.

‘It made me feel that I was inadequate and a weak person. It was embarrassing. I couldn’t even give my name for a job because (they would say) that’s that fella Conmey again and it does knock you back in it.

‘It never, never, never leaves me – every morning I get up and every night I go to bed it is the same thing.

‘And the thing is, unfortunately, if I was to get a few drinks, I tend to get kind of be paranoid and if someone says something out of the ordinary, I’m kind of analysing that and reading into it, it is still there and will be until I die,’

RTE documentary, Crimes and Confessions is available on RTE player.

Making a Murderer: The Netflix show which made Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey household names 

Netflix’s 2015 documentary Making a Murderer raised questions about the convictions of Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, 31 over Teresa Halbach’s 2005 murder.  

Both Avery and Dassey maintain their innocence. The case gained national attention in 2015 after Netflix aired ‘Making a Murderer,’ a multi-part documentary examining Halbach´s death. 

The series spawned conjecture about the pair´s innocence, but those who worked on the cases accused the filmmakers of leaving out key pieces of evidence and presenting a biased view of what happened. 

The filmmakers defended their work and supported calls to set Avery and Dassey free.

Dassey was 16 when he confessed to detectives he helped his uncle rape and kill Halbach at the Avery family´s salvage yard. 


Avery, 57 (left), was found guilty along with nephew, Brendan Dassey, 30 (right), of raping and murdering photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005

Halbach was a freelance photographer whose remains was found on the Avery family’s property in Wisconsin in 2005 

A judge threw out the confession in 2016, ruling it was coerced by investigators using deceptive tactics. 

That ruling was later overturned by a federal appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his case. 

Avery had spent 18 years in prison for a different rape before DNA testing exonerated him.

After his release, he filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit over his conviction, but he was arrested in 2005 and later convicted of Halbach’s murder as that lawsuit was still pending. 

In December 2020, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers rejected his nephew Dassey’s plea for a pardon after the US Supreme Court refused to hear his latest appeal. 

Avery has been fighting unsuccessfully for years to have his conviction overturned and to be granted a new trial.

 He is completing his life sentence at Waupun Correctional Institution in Wisconsin but maintains his innocence. 

Season 3 of Making a Murderer is expected to be released on Netflix in 2022.  


Season 3 of ‘Making a Murderer’ is expected to be released in 2022

 

 

 

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