HARROWING scenes at a Mayo farmhouse where an elderly couple were found dead on November 1 of last year were given at an inquest today (Monday).
Kitty Fitzgerald (72) was found dead in a pool of blood in the hallway of her home at Knockadoon, near Irishtown, the inquest in Castlebar was told.
Her husband Tom (74), clearly deceased, was located in the adjoining yard with his head leaning into a water tank. Nearby was a bottle of weedkiller. The cap of the bottle was clenched in Mr. Fitzgerald's hand.
On the gravel nearby sat the couple's son, Paul, who had been tasered and handcuffed when members of the armed Regional Support Unit (RSU) arrived on the scene. Paul's face was badly bruised, there was a wound to the rear of his head and his clothing was bloodstained.
It appears from evidence given to the inquests that Tom Fitzgerald, a painter/decorator by profession, fatally assaulted his wife in the house and also attacked Paul with the same bar - part of a scaffolding pole - knocking him to the ground. The bar, heavily bloodstained, was discovered later by investigating officers in the Fitzgeralds' garden shed.
The cause of Kitty Fitzgerald's death was given to the inquest as 'blunt force trauma to the head'. The cause of Tom Fitzgerald's death was the ingestion of corrosive fluid (weedkiller). The inquest jury returned a verdict of homicide in the case of Kitty. In the case of her husband, Tom, they returned a verdict of self-inflicted homicide.
Following the verdict, Mr. Connor said that words failed him. It was probably one of the most difficult cases a coroner and the gardaí had to deal with, particularly for Paul Fitzgerald, both families, and the entire community.
Words were inadequate, the coroner stated, adding that all we can do is remember Tom and Kitty and learn something – he didn’t know what it was – from their tragic deaths.
In a statement read to the inquest, Paul said he has no memory of the day's shocking events. “I have absolutely no recollection of what happened at my parents' house,” he said, adding: “I don't even know why I went to my parents' house.”
Mr. Fitzgerald said his last memory before that date (November 1) was of attending the movie The Lion King at Cherrywood Business Park, Dublin, with his girlfriend Aoife O'Gorman.
He explained that he had worked with his dad for a time as a painter but in latter years would only go home for weekends as he considered Galway city his home. There was never any problem in the house between his parents, the witness continued, and he would described their relationship as 'strong'.
Paul Fitzgerald went on to say his father had been depressed before his death and had been prescribed an anti-depressant. He had 'snapped out of it' after a few weeks. He added that after injuring his knee on a paint job, his father was in pain. There was talk of him getting the knee replaced but he was in two minds about the operation. “My father was concerned about the future because of the problem with his leg,” Mr. Fitzgerald stated.
He said that the week prior to November 1 he had painted the front wall of the family home. That was the last time he had seen his parents.
Paul Fitzgerald's girlfriend, Aoife O'Gorman, discovered the bodies and her badly injured boyfriend when she travelled from Galway city to Irishtown on November 1 to try and find her boyfriend, whom she was unable to contact.
Paul was treated initially at University Hospital Galway before being transferred to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.
In a statement to gardaí read to today's inquest, Ms. O'Gorman said she left Claregalway around midday for Irishtown. The statement went on: “As I passed Fitzgeralds' house I saw Paul's jeep and his dogs. I drove up the driveway and the dog came over to me. I went to the back door. It was closed. I saw a bloody handprint on the left jamb of the door. I tried knocking. I could hear the power shower going.”
Ms. O'Gorman said that after checking the sheds calling 'Hello', she went to her car and rang her mother who told her 'It doesn't look good' and kind of wanted her to leave. After again knocking on the house door and getting no reply, Ms. O'Gorman again called her mother from the car. As she did so, she saw the back door open.
Her statement continued: “Paul came out the back door. I saw he had black eyes and there was dried blood on his head, his face, nose and behind his ears. He had blue jeans that looked mucky and a mustard body warmer with some blood on it. I went over to him. I started crying. When I asked what happened to him he said he couldn't remember. There was a big, deep cut to the back of his head. I could see into his skull. I started bawling.”
Ms. O'Gorman said her boyfriend wasn't making sense in anything he said and made a sleeping gesture by putting his two hands together at the side of his head.
After telling Paul she was bringing him to hospital, he got baby wipes from his jeep and started wiping blood from his face. He then went into the house and when he did not re-emerge, she went into the house and saw a body on the ground - a woman in her pyjamas.
She found Paul on a bed wiping his eyes with baby wipes. His duvet was 'all messed up' and his pillow was also bloodied.
Ms. O'Gorman related that she left Paul behind and drove the scene, bawling. After going past Irishtown she rang 999 stating she wanted an ambulance, that her boyfriend was in a serious state and his mother was badly hurt.
Witness said that Paul had told her a month earlier that his father was in really bad form and was going back on depression tablets. She said Paul's father had hurt his knee and was not able to work, and this was getting him down.
John Hoade, a forensic scientist, said Kitty's body was found face down in her hallway. She had bled heavily.
The blood spatter, Mr. Hoade explained, indicated she may have been assaulted in the bedroom or at the end of the corridor outside the bedroom.
He added that blood patterns in the yard and shed indicate Paul was assaulted in this area and collapsed on the ground outside the shed. Paul subsequently made his way into the house through the back door and lay in the single bed in the small bedroom while bleeding heavily.
Blood matching both Kitty and Paul found on a metal pole indicated it was the that which was used in the assault on both of them.
The cause of Tom Fitzgerald's death was given to the inquest by Dr. Michael Curtis, Deputy State Pathologist, as corrosive fluid (weedkiller) with pharyngeal and oesopageal necrosis.
Although some fluid was present in the principal airways, the lungs did not show the typical features of drowning. Therefore, Dr. Curtis said, the cause of death was the ingestion of corrosive fluid.
The cause of Kitty's death, Dr. Curtis outlined, was blunt force trauma to the head. She had been struck a minimum of three times with a solid instrument.
Evidence was given to the hearing by Garda Aidan Foley of the Regional Support Unit, based in Claremorris, that Paul Fitzgerald was tasered because he wouldn’t obey instructions to take his hands from his pocket.
Officers believed there was a possibility of 'an active shooter' and 'somebody' with a knife present, and this was the reason for the tasering by an armed officer (not Garda Foley).