West Belfast man Raymond O’Neill found guilty of murdering Jennifer Dornan

West Belfast man Raymond O’Neill has been handed a life sentence after he was convicted of murdering Jennifer Dornan.

ollowing five hours deliberations, on Friday a jury at Belfast Crown Court returned unanimously guilty verdicts on charges of both murder and arson.

As Ms Dornan’s friends and family started cheering in the public gallery when the guilty verdicts were passed, O’Neill showed no emotion at all.

Ms Dornan’s mother Teresa and sister Claire, who attended every day of the eight-week trial along with other relatives, said: “After seven long years we have finally got justice for our beautiful Jennifer.”

Despite his claims of innocence, the jury concluded that O’Neill (47) followed Jennifer Dornan to her Hazel View home in the early hours of Sunday August 2nd, 2015.

She was captured on her neighbor’s CCTV walking home with her shoes in her hand at 2.53am on Sunday August 2nd, 2015.

She had spent the evening before socializing in the Devenish, before going back to a friend’s house at Lagmore Avenue.

Also present at that address was O’Neill, who did not know Ms Dornan prior to that weekend.

The same camera caught O’Neill – who at the time was 37 and living in a bedsit at Amcomri Street – holding a jacket over his face walking along Hazel View at 3.12am.

Once inside her Lagmore home, O’Neill stabbed the 30-year-old mother-of-three in the chest three times before setting fire to her bedroom in a bid to destroy the evidence.

After the murder of Ms Dornan, O’Neill fled to Donegal – but was arrested in Bundoran five days after the murder.

Following the guilty verdicts trial judge Mr Justice Scoffield, addressed O’Neill and told him: “Mr O’Neill, you have been convicted by the jury of the offense of murder and by law there is only one sentence which is available to me in respect of that offense.

“Your sentence will be one of imprisonment for life.”

In a hearing that has been harrowing at times, the jury was told how Ms Dornan’s charred remains were discovered in her bedroom.

This discovery was made by members of the Fire and Rescue Service who were called to tackle the early morning blaze.

During the two-month trial, witnesses called included a teenage girl who missed coming face-to-face with O’Neill by mere minutes after he had killed Ms Dornan.

The then 13-year-old had been staying with her friend in the house next door to Ms Dornan’s, but she left her friend’s and walked along Hazel View at 4.21am as she was feeling sick and got a taxi home.

Just three minutes earlier, CCTV captured O’Neill leaving Ms Dornan’s home and walking in the direction of White Glen, where he dumped the kitchen knife he used to murder Ms Dornan in the back garden of a house.

Other witnesses called to give evidence were friends who spent the night in Ms Dornan’s company in the hours before she was murdered.

A friend of O’Neill’s also gave evidence and recalled seeing blood on the accused’s hand following an early-morning meeting in an alleyway.

The witness said this meeting occurred on Sunday August 2nd, and that afterwards he and O’Neill went to his mother’s house where more drink was consumed.

During the sixth week of the trial, a new witness came forward after reading a newspaper report on the case.

This witness – a former partner of O’Neill’s nephew Shane – gave evidence via a videolink and said that in August 2015 she was still with Shane, and that around 5am on Sunday August 2nd O’Neill called and woke them up.

The Belfast mother-of-one said Shane answered the door, and when O’Neill came in she heard the two men talking in the hall.

When asked what she heard, the witness said: “I heard Raymond walk through the door and he said to Shane he had killed someone and Shane asked what he meant by he had killed someone, why would he do that.

“Raymond O’Neill’s answer was it wasn’t him, it was the drink and drugs that made him do it.”

O’Neill – who attended court in a wheelchair – also gave evidence and denied he murdered Ms Dornan.

Instead, he made the case that due to a stroke he suffered which was caused by being poisoned by prison staff in October 2015, he lost his memory.

This complete memory loss, he claimed, included the weekend of August 1 and 2 2015.

O’Neill denied “taking a shine” to the 30-year-old, saying she was “definitely not” his type, and denied sexually assaulting and stabbing her then setting fire to her bedroom.

When shown CCTV of the murderer walking along Hazel View with his face obscured by his coat, he said the male in the footage was not him.

He told the jury: “I was not the person who committed this murder. I had nothing to do with her murder. I was not there.”

He also claimed he had no memory of his arrest in Bundoran – which he again attributed to the prison poison.

However, his version of events was rejected by the jury who convicted him of both murder and arson.

Mr Justice Scoffield thanked the six men and women for their dedication and excused them from jury service for the rest of their lives.

As the jury were leaving the court, Ms Dornan’s family and friends rose to their feet and applauded them.

The eight-week trial came to a conclusion when the Judge told O’Neill there will be a tariff hearing on June 24 when it will be determined how long he will spend in prison before he is considered eligible for release by the Parole Commissioners.

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