It is approaching two years to the day since primary school teacher Ashling Murphy told her mother that she was heading out for a run in the middle of the afternoon.
Kathleen reacted by begging her not to go along the canal, but the daughter replied, “Ah mum, I’m 23-years-old” before hugging her and saying, “I love you, you’re the best mum in the world”.
The date was 12 January, 2022. Ashling's Fitbit showed she started her run at 2.51pm but not long after closing her front door she was murdered near the canal. A stranger stabbed her 11 times in the neck before leaving her in a deep muddy ditch.
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And 24 hours later, the killer was admitted to hospital with his own injuries where he shockingly confessed to the crime.
Jozef Puska said he had no recollection of the chilling confession after being charged but in November he was sentenced to life behind bars and below we take a closer look at the case that sent shockwaves throughout Ireland.
Who is Ashling Murphy?
Ashling Murphy was a 23-year-old school teacher with strong links to her community of Tullamore – an Irish town in County Offaly.
Away from the classroom, she was rooted in the traditional music scene and had performed in a group called Ballyboy Comhaltas ever since she was a little girl.
The talented musician, who played the fiddle and concertina, also competed in camogie for Kilcormac Killoughey GAA club.
And remembering her, friend David Vesey told The Times: “As a person, she was kind and funny. She brightened up our tour group with her smile and her humour. She was passionate about music and was a real leader within the group. She is missed so much and she is always close to my thoughts.”
James Hogan, principal of Durrow National School where Ashling taught children, also described her as an “amazing young lady who left a strong legacy”.
Ashling had a loving family including her parents, Kathleen and Ray, brother, Cathal, and sister, Amy. She was also in a relationship with local lad Ryan Casey and the pair first got together when they were 15.
Tragically, they met with an architect weeks before the murder to talk about building a home where they wanted to raise children.
Remembering it, Ryan said: “I’d smile to myself thinking, I can’t wait to marry that girl. I would've married her a long time ago and I wish I did but we didn’t get a chance to reach that part.”
And the 'monster' responsible for this is Jozef Puska – who Ryan described in court as being “the epitome of pure evil”.
Who is Jozef Puska?
Jozef Puska grew up close to scenic ski resorts in Slovakia in a picturesque village called Lucivna and his old neighbours described him as quiet and mild-mannered.
Speaking to The Times, one said: “He was just a boy when he left. He was good when he lived here, he had no problems. No one knows what happened to him.”
Others said he came from a “normal family” and he went to school and was nicely dressed. And Puska, who is a Roma gypsy, eventually left the country to find work as a labourer in the Czech Republic.
But ten years ago he arrived in Dublin with a wife and two children before having another baby. He moved to Tullamore two years later where he had two more kids.
He lived in a five-bedroom council house but one resident told the Mail: “I'd be very happy if I never hear that b******'s name ever again. I remember him being here. I remember the mess that was in the front of the house, bags of rubbish everywhere. There were always people coming and going at all hours. There was noise. There were problems with rats and everything.”
Puska initially worked on building sites but ended up relying on £166-a-week in disability benefits after slipping a disk in his back in a work accident.
Ashling’s life was cruelly taken in broad daylight close to the Grand Canal in Cappincur, Co Offaly, moments after telling her concerned mum that she loved her.
She was set upon by Puska who was seen on CCTV stalking other women and playing with something in his pocket in the hours and minutes before Ashling came jogging along the banks on the afternoon of January 12, 2022.
He pounced and stabbed her in the neck 11 times and he was even interrupted during the horrendous attack by a woman who saw him crouching over Ashling. The married father-of-five, who was on dating apps and was out looking for women, shouted at her to go away before fleeing.
And according to data obtained from Ashling’s fitbit, her heart rate suddenly dropped at 3.21pm before stopping entirely at 3.31pm before anyone could rescue her.
The first officer on scene was Garda Shane Hunt who tried CPR and he later told the courts: “There was a lot of blood. Her hair was matted and caught with briars. There was a necklace around her neck with the word ‘Ashling’.”
And after being told the horrific news, Ashling’s mother, Kathleen, said her “heart was ripped” from her body.
One day after the senseless murder, Puska found himself in St James’ Hospital in Dublin where he told staff he was randomly stabbed in a separate incident by two men. He arrived there in an ambulance after staying at his parent's home in the capital the night Ashling died.
At the time, emotional vigils for Ashling were taking place throughout the country and staff were suspicious of Puska before police came to question him as a potential crime victim.
Gardai arrived to talk to the killer who had visible scratches on his hands, arms and forehead before he made a bombshell confession via a translator the following day. Speaking during the murder trial, Detective Brian Jennings said: “He paused and said he is making an official statement that he is admitting that he committed the murder. ‘I did it. I murdered. I am the murderer’.”
He also told the cop: “I tell her go. I won’t hurt you. When she passed I cut her neck. She panic. I panic.” Puska said the murder was not intentional and he added: “The reason I am pleading guilty, I don’t want my family, anything to happen to them, nothing bad for them. I feel guilty and I say I regret it.”
However, he later said he had no recollection of these words and that he didn’t know anything about the murder.
He subsequently pled not guilty after being charged but the trial at Dublin's Criminal Courts of Justice was delayed after cops thwarted Puska from taking his own life.
When proceedings eventually began, Puska had again changed his story and he claimed he was knifed by a masked stranger who then attacked Ashling before he tried to help her.
But this was all false and the evidence against him mounted, including DNA matching his that was found underneath Ashling's fingernails.
He was found guilty of murder before being handed a whole life sentence. It was also concluded that he most likely stabbed himself in the stomach before requiring keyhole surgery for three knife wounds.
Judge Tony Hunt said the judicial outcome was “richly deserved” after previously saying there was “evil in this room” after a unanimous verdict was announced.
And in a powerful impact statement, boyfriend Ryan looked directly at Puska, who refused to make eye contact back, and said: “I don't think we will ever truly know why this evil, evil, description of a human being decided to take our Ashling from us but all I will say to you is this, you have no idea, nor did you ever and will never have any idea, the level of connection and love that Ashling and I shared.
“I don't care where you end up, or what happens to you after today – but you smirked, you smiled, and you showed zero remorse throughout this trial, which sums up who you really are, the epitome of pure evil.
“But one thing is for sure, you will never, ever harm or touch another woman ever again and when your day of reckoning comes, may you be in hell a whole half hour, before God even knows you're dead.”
While Puska was sentenced in November, the Sunday World revealed how five people are set to appear at Tullamore District Court on December 20 charged with withholding information during the murder investigation.
This includes his brothers, Marek Puska and Lumbomir Puska, and also his wife, Lucia Istokova.
And according to the Irish Mirror, Ms Istokova has been Puska’s only regular visitor in jail in recent weeks as he prepares to appeal his murder conviction.
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