15 December 2005

The killer next door

Irish Independent

Ralph Riegel and Kathy Donaghy

WAYNE O'Donoghue went to prison last night for killing his 11-year-old neighbour, leaving two families facing a desolate Christmas.

Mark and Majella Holohan must now struggle through their first Christmas without their life-loving eldest child Robert who was killed last January 4 while playing with his favourite present, his shiny silver BMX bike.

Ray and Therese O'Donoghue, the parents of his killer, also face a bleak festive season. Their son will be behind bars awaiting sentence for the manslaughter of the young boy who idolised him.

The engineering student was acquitted last night by a Central Criminal Court jury in Cork of the murder of his near neighbour who regarded him as "a God-like creature" and "the big brother he never had".

The jury returned an unanimous verdict acquitting O'Donoghue of the murder charge after four hours and 24 minutes of deliberations following the 10 day trial - and just 20 minutes after being allowed by Mr Justice Paul Carney to return a majority verdict.

However, O'Donoghue was convicted on his plea of Robert Holohan's manslaughter after a trial which gripped the nation.

The 21-year-old was remanded in custody and will be sentenced on January 24.

O'Donoghue held his face in his hands concealing his emotions as the jury returned the Not Guilty verdict on the murder charge at 4.24pm.

At 5.15 he was led away by prison officers to await his sentence in the New Year.

O'Donoghue of Ballyedmond, Midleton, Co Cork, had denied the murder at Ballyedmond on January 4 last but he admitted manslaughter.

The student insisted that Robert died accidentally after he placed him in a head-lock and then caught him by the throat following a confrontation over O'Donoghue's refusal to drive the boy to McDonald's for a milk shake.

Robert's parents remained emotionless in court as the verdict was returned - with Mark merely shaking his head and Majella tightly holding on to a photo of her son.

O'Donoghue's parents wept as the verdict was returned by the jury of seven women and five men.

They hugged each other when their son avoided the mandatory life sentence that accompanies a murder conviction. Wayne's former girlfriend, Rebecca Dennehy, also broke down and sobbed.

The Holohans declined to comment to the media and left the court escorted by gardai through a side door. The O'Donoghue family also declined to speak directly to the media.

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