THE brother of a Clare woman brutally killed 16 years ago has insisted “the justice system is wrong” as the family fear her murderer’s move to an open prison means he is being prepared for release.
Ann Walsh from Pella Road, Kilrush, was 23 when she was murdered in the grounds of St Senan’s Church, Kilrush on August 24, 2005.
Raymond Donovan from Cooraclare was convicted of her murder at the Central Criminal Court in Ennis with Mr Justice Paul Carney imposing a mandatory life sentence following a unanimous guilty verdict by a jury.
Ann’s brother Stephen believes that Donovan should spend the rest of his life behind bars, insisting, “Life should mean life”.
However, he says his family was devastated to learn that Donovan had been moved to Shelton Abbey open prison, believing this is the final step on the path towards eventual release.
Stephen also hit out at the Irish Prison Service saying the family is not being given enough information about temporary releases from prison of Donovan, and is not being kept fully informed about any possible permanent release date.
“He’s in an open prison now, the next step is out the door, and they are not telling us anything. It’s killing my mother, it’s killing my father, it’s killing us all.
“He’s only done 16 years since August 24 and he can get out and continue on with his life whereas my sister, she’s gone. We don’t know when he is due out, they are not giving us a straight answer. His home place is only eight miles away from us, he shouldn’t be allowed to go there, we don’t want to run into him. I think 16 years isn’t enough for him.”
The Walsh family worry he could be released as early as Christmas.
“He didn’t just destroy one life, he destroyed all our lives. Imagine hearing at Christmas time that he is getting out and there he is sitting down with his family and Ann’s not here with us. We’re trying to fight her corner.”
Stephen was just 16 years of age when his sister was cruelly taken away. He tells us that the loss has “tore our family apart”.
“Sixteen years down the road and it’s still the same feelings as if it was only yesterday. The killing he gave her, you wouldn’t even do it to a dog. He strangled her in the back of the church and that’s a place that we have to walk past. You think it’s something you get over, but you don’t.
“I see my father and he is broken, his days are spent just going back over to grave.
“The feeling is as raw as it was on 24th of August 2005, it’s still the same.”
Remembering his sister who dreamed of being a hairdresser, he says, “Ann was quiet. She was easy-going, bubbly and full of life. She loved meeting people and talking to people.
“She was easy to get along with. She was innocent, very quiet and had brains in school. There was never a bit of trouble.”
Stephen believes that Donovan should spend the rest of his life behind bars and says a change to the justice system is needed.
Over the years his family have been campaigning to support women affected by violence. They were involved in the fight to change the law which now means convicts serving life sentences must serve at least 12 years before being eligible for parole. The minimum period previously was seven years.
He feels that Donovan’s release is inevitable and it is “too late” for his family, however he says a change to the law would help others.
“The justice system is all wrong. When people say a mandatory life sentence, that’s basically false advertising, they are not serving life, life should mean life.
“Ann was only 23, her life wasn’t even started yet. He can do 16 years in jail and he’s no more than 40 now, and he can come out and pick up the pieces. He deserves to stay there, along with anyone else who takes someone’s life.
“What kind of justice system do we have? You murder someone you are taking somebody’s life, the least that should be done is that they are left in prison till the day they die, that’s life.”
The Clare Champion contacted the Irish Prison Service which stated it did not comment on individual prisoner cases.
In response to a query about communication with victim families the service said, “When offenders are committed to custody the Irish Prison Service is not provided with information on the identity of the victim or means to contact them.
“The Irish Prison Service will, if requested, inform victims of significant sentence management details of offenders.
“However, it is important to note that this is a voluntary service and only those who choose to will receive the relevant information.
“The current practice is that the victims or their families must initiate the contact with the Irish Prison Service Victim Liaison Service as any alternative arrangement could be perceived as intrusive and insensitive.
“Information and contact details in relation to the Victim Liaison Service are available on the Irish Prison Service website at www.irishprisons.ie.”