Criminal Courts of Justice
A Laois resident who killed her violent boyfriend in Tipperary, who she said had made her life "a living hell" and whom she had obtained two safety orders against, has been jailed for four years for manslaughter.
Inga Ozolina (48), originally from Latvia, but with an address at Old Court Church, Mountrath, Co Laois, was found not guilty of murder but guilty of the manslaughter of Lithuanian native Audrius Pukas (40) by a jury on May 29 last.
She had pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr Pukas at The Malthouse, Roscrea on November 20, 2016.
At the Central Criminal Court on Wednesday, Mr Justice Alexander Owens said that Ozolina, a mother of two, regrets her former partner died but had not accepted responsibility for his death.
"There is no doubt that the activity of the defendant and the fracas was not purely defensive," noted the judge.
He added that she had lost self-control on the night. However, Mr Justice Owens said it was relevant that the accused woman had been "assaulted, beaten and treated roughly" by the deceased on other occasions and this must have reflected her judgment of him.
Ozolina had told detectives that during a row that turned violent, her boyfriend pulled her hair, pushed her towards the floor and begun hitting and biting her. Photographs of her injuries, including two bite marks, were shown to the jury. At Ozolina's sentence hearing, her defence team submitted she was possibly under "deadly attack" at the time.
A pathologist gave evidence that the father of two died at the scene from a stab wound to his chest. He had also sustained two other knife wounds in the incident.
The trial heard that the couple had a volatile relationship, which was violent at times.
Witnesses gave evidence of seeing Ozolina with various injuries in the past, and she had obtained two safety orders against him. However, these had lapsed at the time of his death.
Ozolina told gardai in her interviews that domestic violence had been an ongoing problem in their relationship, and that she had been in a women’s shelter.
“My life is just a living hell,” she said. “The safety order didn’t stop him assaulting me over and over again.” She had his number saved under "Sadist" in her phone.
Passing sentence this morning, Mr Justice Owens said the jury had accepted that the "killing was in self-defence but the self-defence was found to be excessive".
The judge said Ozolina had suffered some bruising and been bitten by Mr Pukas on the night during "a significant altercation" which had lasted for some time. He pointed out that the defendant had tried to assist her boyfriend when he was dying before she left her apartment in "a panicked state" to go to Roscrea Garda Station.
Mr Justice Owens said Ozolina resiled from her previous explanation of what had happened on the night in her interviews with gardaí. "She claimed Mr Pukas had impaled himself on the knife," he said.
The judge emphasised that Ozolina continues to maintain to the probation services that the killing was an accident. "She regrets he died but does not accept responsibility for his death," he continued.
Before delivering the sentence this morning, Mr Justice Owens said that Ozolina was away from her family and two daughters at the time and holding down two jobs in Ireland. Mr Pukas was an alcoholic whose previous marriage had failed and formed a relationship with the defendant, he explained, adding that the deceased had perpetrated a number of assaults on her. The judge said temporary protection orders had been obtained against Mr Pukas but Ozolina had let him back into her apartment. "There was evidence he had a violent temper and was loud and aggressive during arguments," he indicated.
Having regard to the gravity of the offence, the judge said it was a serious matter and sentencing must reflect this.
Aggravating factors in the case included the fact Ozolina had produced a large knife in the course of an altercation and inflicted two significant wounds when her boyfriend was unarmed.
"I will never know the precise basis on which the jury came to their conclusion," he said, adding that they may have concluded the defendant did not mean to seriously injure Mr Pukas and the court must give her the benefit of any reasonable doubt. The judge said he must also take into account the large number of other injuries to Mr Pukas which resulted in the fatal event. "There is no doubt the activity of the defendant and the fracas was not purely defensive," he said.
However, the judge said it was also relevant that Ozolina was assaulted, beaten and treated roughly by Mr Pukas on other occasions and this must have reflected her judgment of him on the night. The argument took place in the middle of the night and the deceased had outstayed his welcome in the defendant's home, he commented, adding that things had "got out of hand with fatal results". The injuries to Mr Pukas show that the defendant was the aggressor and point to a loss of self-control, he remarked.
The judge said the appropriate headline sentence to reflect the culpability and harm was seven years in prison.
Mitigating factors in sentencing, Mr Justice Owens said, were her good character, her minor previous conviction for a public order offence which he was disregarding, good references from employers and the fact she was unlikely to offend again.
Referring to the defendant, the judge said she regrets Mr Pukas' death even if she does not admit full culpability.
As a result of the mitigating circumstances, the judge said he would reduce the headline sentence from seven years to five years in prison. Following this, he said he would suspend part of the sentence in order to encourage rehabilitation.
Mr Justice Owens then sentenced Ozolina to five years in prison with one year suspended, backdated to May 29, 2019 when she went into custody.
The defendant gave little reaction before she was led away by prison officers.
EVIDENCE HEARD IN TRIAL:
The trial heard that Ozolina was preparing dinner around 1am on the day of the incident, having worked a late shift. She said that they had begun arguing over Mr Pukas having friends over and drinking in the apartment while she was at work.
Ozolina explained that he had then begun throwing pictures of her children into the fire before turning violent.
She said that he had pulled her hair, pushed her towards the floor and begun hitting and biting her. Photographs of her injuries, including two bite marks, were shown to the jury.
The accused woman said that she had grabbed the closest thing with which to defend herself, a big kitchen knife.
She added that her doctor had previously suggested that she have something sharp handy with which to defend herself ‘just in case’. However, her doctor testified that this had not happened.
The defendant explained that she and the deceased had continued to struggle and that he had flinched. She told gardai in her interviews that she was surprised when he suddenly stopped and let her go, as "normally when he gets violent, he hits me to the end".
She explained that she washed a few things in the kitchen sink, including the knife. She said she hadn’t realised that it had cut him or that there was blood on the blade.
Ozolina said that she then followed Mr Pukas downstairs to check on him, because "once he starts on me, he never retreats so easily".
Following this, Ozolina said that he was lying on the floor, breathing very heavily. She said she thought that he was having a seizure because he had asthma, so she used an inhaler on him.
“Then I realised there was blood,” she said.
The mother of two said that, after trying First Aid, she ‘chased’ to the garda station.
The jury saw CCTV of her pulling up in her car and entering the station in her dressing gown and slippers.
A garda gave evidence of her first words to him that morning.
“I’ve killed my boyfriend, come quick, come quick,” she’d said. “I stabbed him. I pushed the knife into him, come quick.”
It was put to her by garda in interviews that this was the truth, and not her account of the knife accidentally cutting him during the struggle without her knowledge.
She denied washing the knife to get rid of DNA evidence, which was still found. Despite the knife being clean when seized from the cutlery drawer, the microscopic analysis found specs of blood matching her boyfriend’s on the blade.
Mr Justice Alexander Owens told the jury of seven men and five women that they could find Ms Ozolina not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter if they were satisfied that she had acted in excessive self-defence, or didn’t have the necessary intent for murder.
VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT:
Audrius Pukas sister, Rasa Sehgal, told the court in her victim impact statement this month that her brother’s entire life went through her mind on the evening that a police officer knocked on her door to tell her the news of his death.
“I remember he was a very hard worker… He liked to help others. He would help around our home, doing odd jobs,” she recalled.
“Now, I feel alone here,” she said, explaining that she had no other family in Ireland.
“I have pain in my heart,” she added.
She said that her brother used to remind her of their father, who she described as an amazing man.
“I can’t feel peace and calmness in my life,” she continued. “This is a huge loss. I’m still in pain. There’s something missing all the time and I cry, cry and cry all the time.”
At a sentence hearing on July 22, defence counsel Caroline Biggs SC for Ms Ozolina, said her client was possibly under deadly attack from the deceased at the time, and asked Mr Justice Owens to place the manslaughter within the lower culpability range.
The barrister said that the mother of two had killed him in self defence, where there was a history of domestic violence, and that there was "very strong supportive evidence that this event started with his attacking her."
“She had used her hands and fists and it didn’t stop, so what was there for her?” asked Ms Biggs.
Prosecution counsel Paul Murray SC said that the DPP saw the case within the medium culpability bracket for manslaughter. He said that there were three stab wounds, the knife had been washed afterwards and that the deceased had been unarmed.
“This is not a situation in which she ever pleaded guilty to manslaughter,” he noted. “It was defended as an accident; that account was not accepted by the jury.”
Ms Biggs reminded Mr Justice Owens of their violent relationship. She noted that her client had called the gardai to her home on four occasions looking for assistance in relation to the deceased.
“She stands over her account of a very violent assault, and that she acted in self-defence,” she said. “Clearly, the jury didn’t accept that the fatal wound was an accident. It would seem they’ve accepted her account of self-defence.”
She explained that her client was now in a new, calm relationship. She was also about to become a grandmother.
“I'm going to ask you to consider whether this falls within lower culpability,” she said.
Ms Biggs submitted that this was because there had been self-defence, where there was a history of domestic violence.
“There’s very strong supportive evidence that this event started with the attack on her by Mr Pukas,” she said. “She was under attack and possibly deadly attack. She had used her hands and fists and it didn’t stop, so what was there for her?"