The late Ashling Murphy.

Puska granted legal aid to appeal his conviction for Ashling Murphy murder

by Eoin Reynolds

Jozef Puska has been granted legal aid to appeal his conviction for murdering school teacher Ashling Murphy.

His case was one of 20 applications for legal aid before the Court of Appeal this morning (Friday). Mr Justice George Birmingham granted legal aid in all cases. Puska will be entitled to the same legal representation he had for his trial at the Central Criminal Court - a solicitor, senior counsel and two junior counsel.

During his trial, the jury heard Puska told detectives that he stopped working in 2017 after slipping a disk in his back.

Prior to a jury being sworn to hear Puska's trial last year his lawyers made a number of objections to the evidence the prosecution intended to call. The defence argued that the jury should not hear Puska's confession to gardai two days after the stabbing. They said that Puska was suffering the effects of abdominal surgery and under the influence of the painkiller oxycodone and that his confession was therefore involuntary.

They also objected to the prosecution showing CCTV footage of Puska stalking two women in Tullamore town centre before heading to the canal where he came upon Ashling Murphy, walking alone. The trial judge's decisions to allow those and other pieces of evidence to go before the jury are likely to form the basis for Puska's appeal.

Puska (33), with an address at Lynally Grove, Mucklagh, Co Offaly, had pleaded not guilty to murdering Ms Murphy at Cappincur, Tullamore, Co Offaly on January 12th, 2022. A jury convicted him by a unanimous verdict following a trial last year. The jury found that Puska stabbed Ms Murphy eleven times in the neck and slashed her once with the edge of a blade before leaving her to die in the thick thorns and brambles by the side of the canal towpath between Tullamore town and Digby Bridge. A monument now stands where she died.

Puska was placed at the scene by the presence of his distinctive green and black bicycle a few feet from Ms Murphy's body. He had been captured on CCTV cycling the same bicycle around Tullamore earlier that afternoon, stalking two women before heading towards the canal.

Puska's DNA was found on the bike as was his fingerprint and his DNA was under Ms Murphy's fingernails. The prosecution argued that the DNA under her nails showed that Ashling had scratched her attacker as she tried to save her own life. When gardai spoke to Puska the day after the murder his face and hands were covered in scratches that were consistent with him crawling through the thorns and briars by the side of the towpath where he murdered Ms Murphy.

In his testimony to the trial, Puska claimed that he was cycling along the towpath when he was attacked and stabbed by a masked man. He claimed the same man then attacked and stabbed Ms Murphy before running away. In what prosecution counsel Anne-Marie Lawlor SC described as a "foul and contemptible fabrication", Puska claimed that he then tried to help Ashling by pulling her scarf up around the wound to her neck. He said that he realised he couldn't help her and crawled through the briars to an adjoining field where he fell unconscious for about four hours.

The jury rejected his version of events. No motive has been offered for the killing and lawyers in the case and Ms Murphy's family have stressed repeatedly that there was no connection between Puska and Ms Murphy, despite internet rumours of a connection.