Man crouched in ditch told witness ‘get away’, Ashling Murphy murder trial hears

Floral tributes laid at the Grand Canal in Tullamore, Co Offaly, where primary school teacher Ashling Murphy was found (Brian Lawless/PA)
Floral tributes laid at the Grand Canal in Tullamore, Co Offaly, where primary school teacher Ashling Murphy was found (Brian Lawless/PA)

A woman who was in the area where Irish teacher Ashling Murphy was killed last year said she came across a man in the hedge who appeared to be crouched over someone.

She said she was told by the man to “get away”, before she and her friend left to raise the alarm.

Ms Murphy, 23, was killed while exercising along a canal walkway in Tullamore, Co Offaly, on January 12 2022.

Jozef Puska, 33, with an address at Lynally Grove in Mucklagh, Tullamore has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

On the second day of evidence in the trial, Jenna Stack, a teacher from the Tullamore area, told the court she was going for a run with her friend Aoife along the canal at around 3.15pm on January 12 last year.

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She told the court she had noticed a bike in the ditch and heard loud rustling and “a lot of noise” coming from the dense hedge.

“It was like someone was struggling to be honest,” Ms Stack told the court, adding that she initially thought someone had fallen off the bike.

Ms Stack told the court she then stepped in closer to the hedge and could see the back of a person wearing what looked like “a navy bomber padded jacket” with an emblem.

Ashling Murphy death
A photograph of Ashling Murphy among flowers and candles during a vigil in her memory at Leinster House, Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

She said she saw someone who appeared to be crouched over someone and appeared to be “holding her down”.

“His face, his teeth were grinding and he shouted ‘get away’,” Ms Stack told the court.

“The girl, she was lying on the ground and she was kicking so hard, like she was crying out for help.

“She was moving whatever part of her body she could to get help,” she said, adding that she had made no sound.

She said that she was afraid he was going to rape her, and she told him he had her phone and would call the Gardai.

She told the court that the interaction lasted around 30 seconds.

Barrister for the defence Michael Bowman SC suggested to Ms Stack that the person seen crouching on the day of Ms Murphy’s death may have been “endeavouring to try and assist”.

Mr Bowman also suggested to the court that Puska’s recollection was there was an engagement with the witness Ms Stack, but he could not make out what was being said.

Ashling Murphy death
The trial of Jozef Puska, 33, is taking place at Dublin Central Criminal Court (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Bowman also suggested Puska had not called out aggressively, but in pain from having his legs cut on the briars.

He told the court that Puska’s recollection is that Ms Murphy was moving, but said it was not in a “scissors motion” that Ms Stack described.

Mr Bowman also suggested to the witness that Ms Murphy’s hands could have been on Puska’s forearms as he tried to stop the bleeding.

Ms Murphy replied that she did not see that and said the person was kicking her legs.

“That was her cry for help,” she told the court.

Asked by Mr Bowman about her identification of a suspect from a line-up on the day after Ms Murphy’s death, who was not Puska, Ms Stack said they were “similar”.

Mr Bowman told the court that there were several aspects accepted by Puska, including that Ms Murphy was brought from the canal walkway to hospital until she was identified, and that he accepted the cause of death conclusion reached by pathologist Dr Sally Ann Collins.

Detective Sergeant Paul Curran also gave evidence on Wednesday about aerial photographs he took on January 13.