In the early hours of a December morning, Claire Lott looked down on the face of a daughter she did not recognise.
Nadine, a petite 30-year-old beautician, lay on the floor of her bloodied and thrashed home, struggling to breathe. She had suffered “extreme and grotesque” injuries to her face, blunt trauma so severe that the flesh had separated from the bone structure.
“I got down on the floor,” Claire Lott told a Central Criminal Court jury, “and said: ‘you’re OK, we can do this'”.
As a female garda began doing compressions on Nadine’s chest, Claire carried out mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
“It was absolutely excruciating but I was doing what I could to try and save my daughter’s life,” she told the jurors.
Covered in her daughter’s blood, she kept doing what she could until an ambulance arrived.
Blood, the jury had heard, was everywhere in the apartment.
The kitchen in Nadine’s home was also covered in it and the victim herself was “soaked in blood”, as was her attacker, another witness had told the jury. Even the air in the apartment gave off an “intense smell of blood”, the first garda to enter the scene had testified.
A paramedic who treated Nadine told the jury that, although he had attended many “horrific calls”, the scene at St Mary’s Court in Arklow, Co Wicklow would “haunt” him for the rest of his career.
During the trial, which has ended with the conviction of Daniel Murtagh for Nadine’s murder, the jury heard evidence from these family members and emergency service personnel who encountered this most “extremely and unbelievably difficult” of scenes.
Nadine’s friend and neighbour, Amela Kulenovic, had even witnessed part of the attack.
A Wild Animal
On that same morning, Ms Kulenvoic had returned home to her apartment and was getting ready for bed when she heard a lot of “banging and noises”. As it was less than two weeks before Christmas, Ms Kulenovic attributed it to “shouting and cheering” but she told the jury that she now knows it was the sound of somebody crying.
Lying in bed with her partner that night, Ms Kulenovic came to realise that this noise was coming from Nadine’s apartment. As the couple looked out her bedroom window, they could see that her neighbour’s front door was ajar and the hall light was on.
Stepping through the open door, Ms Kulenovic entered Nadine’s sitting room and found her friend lying face down on the floor. There, crouched on top of her, was Daniel Murtagh.
He was, she said, like a “wild animal” and was making growling noises.
The eyewitness said Murtagh was “inflicting a lot of force” on Nadine. “It looked quite like he was shoving her into the ground forcefully, pressing his body weight on top of her,” she remarked.
Underneath her attacker’s body weight, Nadine was struggling and gasping for breath while Murtagh applied “real pressure” with his hands to his ex-girlfriend’s neck and shoulders.
Ms Kulenovic later told gardai in a statement that Murtagh was “going ape on” Nadine and was “vicious with rage”.
As the “terrifying” scene unfolded before Ms Kulenovic’s eyes, she had exclaimed: “Oh my God, what the fuck is going on?”
Murtagh, she told the trial, did not respond “in any shape or form” but she felt he knew she was there. Ms Kulenovic told gardai that Nadine’s assailant had “almost looked straight through” her. Instead of replying, he made animalistic sounds, “almost growling, frustrated noises”, over Nadine’s unconscious body.
“You could see he was vicious with rage. You could see it in his eyes. You could see he was trying to inflict as much pain as he could on her,” said Ms Kulenovic.
She described Murtagh as being “physically dominant” over Nadine, despite her being unable to fight back or move. She said the only noise coming from her neighbour’s body was a weeping or gurgling sound.
Panicked and shaken, Ms Kulenovic ran out of the apartment and called Nadine’s younger sister Phoebe Lott. Ms Kulenovic’s partner kept watch to make sure Murtagh was not following her.
It was only when she got back to the safety of her own apartment that Ms Kulenovic saw the killer driving off in a car, leaving his ex-girlfriend in an unconscious state from which she never recovered.
“I couldn’t recognise her face”
Ms Kulenovic called Phoebe Lott, who she knew from school, at around 4.30am that morning, telling her that “Dan had stabbed Nadine” and she needed to come quickly to St Mary’s Court.
Phoebe, who was asleep in bed, answered on the third call. She “burst” into her mother’s room in a panic and told her: “We’ve to go Mammy, Dan has stabbed Nadine; we need to go now.”
Nadine’s mother, Claire Lott, left her house immediately.
“I didn’t even have shoes on me,” she told the jury.
Arriving at Nadine’s apartment, Phoebe entered with the rest of her family behind. She could hear pieces of glass from a broken mirror “crunch” under her feet as she went from room to room trying to find her older sister.
In the kitchen, Nadine was lying on the floor on her back, dressed in pyjama bottoms and a tank top with her head pushed up against the skirting board. Taking the stand during the trial, Phoebe pointed to the left side of her face to describe the wound marks on her sister.
“Her lip was completely split, her eyes were really black and swollen. She was not conscious and was gurgling and gasping for air,” she recalled.
A distressed Claire Lott got down on the floor to try to talk to Nadine but was unable to recognise her second eldest child’s face from the extensive amount of damage that had been inflicted.
“I couldn’t recognise her face, I couldn’t recognise it was Nadine. I said you’re OK, I was saying we can do this,” she told the jury.
At 4.30am, Garda Linda Butler and Garda Ben Silverlock arrived at the scene in advance of paramedics, having received a call regarding a domestic dispute at St Mary’s Court.
Gda Butler noticed a “really intense smell of blood” as she entered the apartment and also observed a large pool of blood surrounding Nadine’s head in the kitchen. She described the patient’s face as “extremely and grotesquely swollen”, with her left eye being “completely swollen shut”.
Gda Silverlock said he could barely make out Nadine’s face as it was covered in so much blood.
In a phone call with ambulance control, Gda Butler was asked to assess Nadine’s injuries and told them that the young woman had been “beaten to a pulp”.
Taking instructions from ambulance control aloud over the telephone, Gda Butler began chest compressions on Nadine as Claire Lott did mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. However, blood was “coming from everywhere” and when Gda Butler tried to clear Nadine’s airways by placing her fingers inside Nadine’s mouth, she noticed some teeth were missing.
Claire Lott told the jury that efforts to resuscitate her daughter were “absolutely excruciating” but “I was doing what I could to try and save my daughter’s life.”
She said she was blowing into Nadine’s mouth but the resuscitation was ineffective as her daughter was just “gurgling” and she could not feel her chest inflate. “I don’t think anything I was doing helped really,” she said at the end of her testimony.
Gda Butler said it was the worst scene she had seen in her 14 years of service in An Garda Siochana, adding that she had never seen a person beaten so badly.
Paramedics were next to arrive at the scene at 4.45am and Stefano Copola remembered the call to Nadine’s house “like it was yesterday”. A considerable amount of work was put into maintaining Nadine’s “very faint pulse”, which paramedics lost three times before they left for St Vincent’s Hospital.
Such was the seriousness of her life-threatening injuries, Nadine had to be moved from the corner of the narrow kitchen into the centre to allow for 360 degree access so that up to four paramedics in addition to the Garda Armed Response Unit could work on her.
Paramedic Ian Clarke said the emergency call he made to Nadine’s house will “haunt” him for the rest of his career and was one of the most “horrendous scenes” he had ever walked into.
He said it was like “a bulldozer” had gone through the apartment as there was “broken furniture” everywhere and some of the debris had to be moved out of the way before his team could assist with CPR. He described the atmosphere as “extremely and unbelievably difficult, very emotional, very charged”.
Mr Clarke said he knelt on shattered glass as he attended to Nadine. His uniform was “destroyed and covered” in blood and he had to change his gloves five or six times.
Noting the “horrific and multiple lacerations” and stab wounds to Nadine’s face, Mr Clarke said: “Her injuries were so severe, [with] her face and hair soaked in blood, that it was difficult so see where all of the injuries were. She had particles of glass in her hair that looked like her head was either shoved into a mirror or she was hit over the head with a mirror.”
A garda drove the ambulance to St Vincent’s so that the three ambulance personnel could devote themselves entirely to working on the dying woman. The trauma team were on stand-by as the ambulance arrived at the emergency department of St Vincent’s Hospital at 6.40am that morning.
Nurse Pamela O’Brien, who works in the emergency department of the hospital, described finding bits of wood and ceramics “matted” into Nadine’s bloodied hair and said one piece looked like a “bit of a dinner plate” and another “a piece of wood”. “There were always about four or five people at any one time working on her; it could have been up to eight or nine,” she remarked.
Commenting on Nadine’s physical stature, the nurse remembered that her head was “huge” from all the swelling in comparison to her “little and tiny body”. Nurse O’Brien became emotional as she told the jury of her efforts to make Nadine as presentable as possible for when her family came in to see her later that day.
“It didn’t make a massive difference what I did to her as they had already seen her at the scene,” she said.
Nurse Leah Grant, who works in the intensive care unit in St Vincent’s Hospital, broke down on the stand as she told the jury that “the very small and petite” Nadine was “completely unrecognisable” when she came under her care in the intensive care unit at 11am that morning.
“I’ve never seen anybody as badly injured as her. She was completely unrecognisable,” Ms Grant said.
She cried as she continued: “Her mum brought in a photo of her and everyone kept saying ‘who is that’ and I said ‘that’s her’.”
Nurse Grant could not check Nadine’s pupils, as her right eye was so physically swollen that they could not open it. “I’m not sure if her left eye was physically present and if the eyeball was punctured,” she said. The patient received 42 units of blood in her first 24 hours in hospital.
Despite the large pieces of reflective glass in Nadine’s hair, the nurse said if she had brushed or washed the patient’s hair it could have increased the bleeding as her skin was so fragile.
Nadine’s nose was continuously bleeding so she tried to pack it as gently as she could to stop the blood, which proved unsuccessful.
Claire Lott became emotional in the courtroom as Nurse Grant recalled removing some plasterboard, which was embedded in her daughter’s left knee. As she removed pieces of plasterboard from the wound, they “crumbled” in her hand.
It was just one of the 64 individual injuries to Nadine’s body.
After three days in intensive care, Nadine Lott died on December 17, 2019 at 3.16pm.
“You don’t know what I’ve done”
John Begley was on the way to do some Christmas shopping with his wife on the morning of December 14 when he saw a car in a ditch at ‘Bookey’s Bridge’, near Laragh. The motorist initially thought somebody had crashed their car following a boozy Christmas party but found no one inside the vehicle.
As he drove about 100 metres up the road past Laragh GAA pitch however, he saw “a chap” staggering on the side of the road and falling to the ground.
After stopping to help, he said he found the man, who smelled of alcohol, lying on his stomach with his trousers and pants around his knees. The man told Mr Begley that his name was Daniel and that he was from Clondalkin.
When gardai arrived at the scene, the man got very agitated and told Mr Begley: “You don’t know what I’ve done”.
Recalling the conversation, Mr Begley said the man told him twice that he had killed his “wife” and hoped she was not dead. He said ‘she was with my friend’,” said Mr Begley.
The first thing Daniel Murtagh told paramedic Patrick Naughton when he arrived at the scene was that he had post traumatic stress disorder. The witness also said that “out of the blue”, Murtagh told him he had killed his girlfriend.
“Funny and a great laugh”
Nadine was Claire Lott’s second eldest child. In her evidence to the trial of her daughter’s killer, she told the jury that Nadine travelled to Australia in June 2012 on a work visa, where she “did really well” working in a beauty salon.
In the words of prosecution counsel John O’Kelly SC, Nadine then had the “dreadful misfortune” of meeting Daniel Murtagh in Darwin, the capital city of Australia’s vast Northern Territory. Claire Lott told the jury that all her daughter had said about Murtagh at the time was that he was “funny”.
Nadine returned to Ireland in May or June of 2013 but Murtagh did not come home at the same time and instead travelled back a few months later.
The court heard that Nadine and her younger sister Phoebe Lott were “very close”. “Even though there was six years between us, we had the same group of friends. It felt like I lost my left arm the day she left for Australia but we spoke most days on Skype,” Phoebe told the jury.
Nadine had briefly told her about meeting Murtagh, she said, and had described him as “funny” and a “great laugh”.
Nadine came home from Australia in June 2013 and by August 2016, she and Murtagh were supposed to move into a house together in Arklow. Murtagh, however, did not turn up when required and Nadine could not contact him to find out where he was.
“She decided she had tried hard enough at that stage and the relationship ended,” Phoebe Lott told the jury.
Phoebe Lott said her last conversation with her sister Nadine was when she rang her on the afternoon before the attack to ask if Phoebe would “stick a pair of eyelashes” on her, as she was going out that night.
Murtagh’s defence team did not put any questions to Claire Lott or her two daughters Phoebe Lott and Tanith when they were called to give evidence on the first day of the trial. However, the following morning the three women were recalled so that defence counsel Brendan Grehan SC could put some questions to them on the instructions of Murtagh.
Mr Grehan began by telling Claire Lott that he was terribly sorry to have to ask her matters concerning her daughter’s relationship with Murtagh.
Mr Grehan put it to the witness that his client and Nadine had got back together five times since they returned to Ireland from Australia.
“That’s not true,” replied Ms Lott.
When asked by the barrister if Murtagh had stayed with Nadine in her apartment at other times up to her death, Claire Lott said the accused had only stayed in her daughter’s house on the night of December 13.
Mr Grehan put the same two questions to Nadine’s sisters, Phoebe Lott and Tanith Lott, and they each reiterated what their mother told the jury.
Finally, Mr Grehan asked Nadine’s mother if it would be fair to say that she did not like the accused.
“I never said that. You are asking me that question where my daughter has been murdered. Before this, at times I did like Daniel, he was Nadine’s choice at the time. He stayed in my house for days, came for Christmas, at no time was he asked to leave,” she replied.
From this point on in the trial, the defence solicitor checked with Murtagh after Mr Grehan cross-examined each witness to ensure that the accused did not have any more supplemental questions he wished to be put to them.
In his closing speech, Mr Grehan told the jury that he was representing Murtagh and he made no apologies for that as that was his job and what he must do. He said that he had to recall Claire, Phoebe and Tanith Lott on the second day of the trial to put some matters to them as his client was not happy that he had put “all of his instructions” to them.
“That is his entitlement and why we are here,” Mr Grehan pointed out.
During the trial, the jury were also handed transcripts of WhatsApp messages between Nadine and Murtagh in the days and weeks leading up to her death.
On December 5, just under two weeks before Murtagh killed Nadine, she messaged him: “Nothing is ever going to happen between us again, I want to make that clear.”
Murtagh replied: “What are you being thick for?”
She said: “I’m not being thick, I’m just saying it as it is”.
Murtagh asked “Are you seeing someone from Dublin?”
Nadine replied “what” and Murtagh said: “Close to me”.
Nadine then said: “Here we go”.
Murtagh continued: “Would you tell me before I tell you” and Nadine replied: “I’m not seeing anyone”.
The defendant said “Ok, was there a Dublin lad in your place?”
Nadine said: “Ah leave it out Dan, will you”.
The defendant said: “Nadine I worry about ye, not in love, just don’t slip”.
Nadine said: “Don’t threaten me either.”
Murtagh asked his former girlfriend how he had threatened her and she replied: “Just don’t slip; sounds a bit like a threat”.
He asked Nadine “why are you pissed with me” and she replied: “You rot me with this ‘do you have Dublin lads in the house’.”
The conversation ended with Murtagh telling the beauty therapist that he will be “down next Friday, try to be a bit nicer than you are now. I shouldn’t be worrying as much, my fault”.
On December 6, Nadine told Murtagh that they were having Christmas dinner “in mine” if he wanted to “come down”.
Three days later on December 9, Nadine told the accused that it was her aunt’s birthday and she planned to go for drinks on the night of December 13.
On the night of December 13, Murtagh sent Nadine a message asking her to “please come home soon”. There are two WhatsApp missed calls from Mr Murtagh’s phone to Nadine’s phone at 00.57 and 1.26am that night.
At the same time Nadine was being treated by the intensive care team in St Vincent’s Hospital, Detective Garda Darren Mulhall travelled to Tallaght Hospital, where Murtagh had been admitted following his crash.
There, he arrested Murtagh for causing serious harm to Nadine, with the now accused man asking him: “Answer me this, is she still alive? Tell me is she still alive”. The arresting officer replied that Nadine was still alive and Murtagh told him that it was “a domestic”.
En route to the garda station in the patrol car, Murtagh continued: “We are only after getting back together. I was supposed to be spending Christmas and all there. She’s fucking one of my mates. Tell me, is she in a bad way? All I’m doing is praying that she will make it. I was in Australia for three years with this girl. It’s on and off then. I truly love her. She was seeing someone else, she came in shouting and screaming. Best I can tell you is I really love her. ”
He added: “Did you find all the tablets in the car? I tried to kill myself to be honest with you. Hand on heart, I know I hit the girl. I just hope she’s OK. It was a domestic Garda, two of us had drink.”
Didn’t go to town
Murtagh told gardai in his initial interviews that he fell in love with Nadine “at first sight” when they met in Darwin eight years previously. He said that he still loved her.
Murtagh maintained Nadine also loved him and they had been back seeing each other in the last few weeks but “behind closed doors”. “Her Ma hates me, I stay in her apartment three nights a week without anyone knowing. None of her family knew we were back together, they would disown her if they knew,” he claimed.
Murtagh remarked that Nadine looked “more than a million dollars” that night, dressed in a black dress and high heels. He was expecting to “make love” to “my baby” when she returned home, he told gardai.
“I call Nadine my baby,” he explained to the detectives.
Waiting for Nadine to come home, Murtagh said he smoked a joint, took two pills and drank what the court later heard was a “daddy naggin” (or shoulder) of rum “straight” before he passed out on her couch.
Over the course of four garda interviews, Murtagh began with a position that he could not remember anything of the assault before eventually coming to demonstrate to gardai how he had beaten down on Nadine’s face and body.
In his second interview, he maintained that Nadine had “a go” at him for drinking and smoking in the apartment when she arrived home. Murtagh said she slapped him so he told gardai he gave her a “soft slap” back and she fell onto the ground.
When asked why he had hit Nadine, Murtagh replied: “No reason, absolutely no reason guard, I’m going to pray every night. I just snapped, I don’t know. I never hit a girl in my life.”
He said he gave her “a couple of slaps”, which was elaborated to become “six or seven hard digs”. However, he again insisted that he had no intention of hurting her.
Murtagh told gardai that he had never “hit a woman in his life” as he had seen a relative “getting killed” [beaten]. “I never thought I would inflict that damage,” he said.
He denied that the couple ever had any physical arguments before that night. He added: “I would stand up for any woman in trouble; I just can’t understand what happened”.
At one point, he told gardai that he thought Nadine would have woken up the next morning with just a few marks and “brushed it off” as he had not “gone to town” on her.
Murtagh later acknowledged that he had hit “the love of his life” “too hard” and had broken his hand.
“I didn’t even think I was hitting her that hard. I’ve been in loads of fights and I hit lads way harder,” he had said.
In his later interviews, Murtagh admitted “pounding” Nadine and “punching like mad” and said that if he had wanted to kill her, he would have.
He said he had just hit Nadine with his hand and that if he had really wanted to kill her “let’s be fair I’d go to kill her”.
“You’re trying to paint a picture of me trying to kill Nadine; if I wanted to kill her I’d kill her. I didn’t even want to inflict that pain on her with my hands,” Murtagh told gardai.
When asked by detectives why he had inflicted “so much pain” on a “slip of a girl” like Nadine, he said he was in a rage and a part of him thought she was “down the town” with another man.
“I just went too hard with my hands, that’s it,” he said.
Gardai suggested to the accused that he was an angry person and he denied this, adding that he was a “loving person”.
When asked by gardai how his hands were not badly damaged, Murtagh said he had “boxed for years and my knuckles are conditioned”.
“I knew she was with a lad in Arklow and I was just trying to get it out of her,” he added.
He insisted that the assault only happened in the sitting room and that Nadine was still lying on the sitting room floor when he left. Murtagh said Nadine was still breathing when he kissed her before leaving the apartment.
“If I was sober I probably wouldn’t have done it, it was the drinks and drugs,” he said.
In his last interview, the accused called Nadine his “future wife” and said: “Now you’re telling me that my future wife to be is barely going to wake up.”
“Her friends get battered by their fellas nearly every week,” he added.
Recalling the events of the night and pointing to his head, he said “there was nothing there like”.
“I was going down like that punching,” Murtagh said as he sat forward in his chair in the interview room and punched the air downwards towards the ground. As he was speaking, Murtagh illustrated his point by punching his fist into the palm of his other hand.
A video recording of this interview was played for the jury.
Finally, Murtagh admitted to officers how he had in fact held a charger for a tyre pump in his hand, wrapping the wire around his knuckles as he beat Nadine.
“The wire was long and getting in the way when I was hitting her; I stood on it and broke it and wrapped the rest of it around my hand,” he said. He also accepted that he might have used the cigarette-type charger “in a hammer action” on his former partner.
This was an account “unvarnished, at times crude and unfiltered through any prism of political correctness,” Murtagh’s defence counsel had told the jury. His client’s demonstrations of how he punched Nadine with the cigarette charger from the tyre pump was “almost revolting”, Mr Grehan also noted.
However, Mr Grehan also reminded the jury that the accused insisted that he did not intend to kill or seriously injure Nadine.
“A sustained and violent attack”
Throughout his interviews, Murtagh insisted that the assault only happened in the sitting room and that Nadine was still lying on the sitting room floor when he left.
The jury heard evidence that only one fingerprint belonging to Murtagh could be located on a press in Nadine’s kitchen. However, the prosecution pointed out that, at the very least, the accused was in the kitchen whilst the attack was still taking place or still ongoing, otherwise his fingerprint could not have been in the deceased’s blood.
The major concentration of blood was found between the two sofas in the sitting room and strands of Nadine’s hair were located on the skirting board in the kitchen. Nadine was found lying on the kitchen floor with her head positioned between a wall and shelving unit when paramedics arrived in the early hours of December 14.
Forensic scientist Dr Stephen Clifford told the trial that the amount of blood splatter found in the kitchen of Nadine’s apartment suggested there had been a “sustained assault” on her when she was lying on the floor there. He said this was his view because of the amount of blood on the wall between the skirting board and the side of the press, where she had first been found after the assault took place.
He also said the blood pattern in the living room indicated that she was assaulted there and the fact Nadine was found in the kitchen meant she must have moved or been moved from the sitting room.
The Chief State Pathologist Dr Linda Mulligan said Nadine died after suffering “traumatic head, neck and chest injuries” and her brain was swollen following a “sustained and violent attack”.
The expert witness said that the blunt force injuries were caused by hands, fists or feet and the use of a blunt weapon could not be ruled out. The cause of death was hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy due to traumatic head, neck and chest injuries.
The pathologist was also “very sceptical” that the deceased would have been able to move around following her injuries.
There were 64 individual injuries observed all over Nadine’s body and these included an incised wound from the left earlobe to the left side of the neck and a stab wound to the right of the neck.
At trial, Murtagh entered a plea of guilty to manslaughter. He accepted that he had unlawfully killed Nadine and that he “alone inflicted the injuries she suffered”. However, he denied that he had the intent to kill or seriously injure her.
Murtagh’s defence was that his attack would never have happened “but for the drink and drugs” he had consumed and his lawyers asked for a verdict of manslaughter on the grounds of lack of intent due to intoxication.
In his charge to the jury, the presiding judge Mr Justice Michael MacGrath told them they must decide in the context of intoxication as to whether the prosecution had satisfied them beyond a reasonable doubt “that despite the accused’s intoxication, he had formed the intent to kill or cause serious injury to Nadine.”
After a trial lasting 12 days over July and August, the seven men and five women of the jury unanimously rejected Murtagh’s defence and instead accepted the State’s case that this was a case of murder and “nothing short of murder”.
Mr O’Kelly had argued that there was no defence of intoxication in the case and that Murtagh had the “clearest intent” when he inflicted the “most dreadful blunt trauma injuries” to Nadine.
“Just look at what the accused didn’t do and what he never tried to do; he never raised a hand to get Nadine any kind of help,” Mr O’Kelly said, in closing the prosecution case.
After the verdict was delivered, around 30 family members and friends of the victim emerged from the Criminal Courts of Justice to pause in silence, those to the fore standing hand-in-hand. They each wore a dark face-mask, where written in pink was one word: “Nadine”.