A school friend of ‘evil’ killer Jozef Puska claimed he must have had a ‘short circuit’ in his brain when he killed primary school teacher Ashling Murphy.
The 33-year-old was jailed for life on Friday after being convicted of the Irish 23-year-old’s murder last week.
The Mail tracked down former classmate Igor Gazi, 34, who lives opposite the home Puska grew up in, in the remote village of Lucivna, at the foot of the High Tadras mountains, in northern Slovakia.
Puska, who is of Roma ethnicity, lived in the tiny village, which has fewer than 1,000 residents, until he was a teenager, before he moved to the capital, Bratislava, aged 16 to work on building sites, then to Prague in the Czech Republic. He is believed to have travelled over to Ireland with his wife, two eldest children, parents and extended family around a decade ago ‘for a better life.’
Puska’s former family home, a small scruffy concrete dwelling in a poor community remains empty, but locals say it has not been sold and is being looked after by neighbours.
Jozef Puska’s former classmate Igor Gazi, 34, outside his former home in northern Slovakia
Igor’s father, Jan, 57, described Puska as a ‘righteous boy’ and claimed that he seemed ‘normal and fine’ when the family returned home on holiday
Puska’s former family home in Lucivna, a small scruffy concrete dwelling in a poor community remains empty but has still not been sold according to locals
During Puska’s sentencing yesterday, Murphy’s devastated boyfriend of six years, Ryan Casey (pictured together) turned to Puska as he said: ‘Because of you, I will never get to marry my soulmate’
Jozef Puska, of Lynally Grove in Mucklagh, Tullamore, had pleaded not guilty to her murder at the Central Criminal Court in Dublin. He was jailed for life on Friday
Ashling Murphy with her boyfriend Ryan Casey
Jozef Puska (grey top centre) is led to a police van after appearing at Tullamore District Court on December 20, 2022
Igor, 34, who attended school with Puska in the city of Svit, around a mile away, said initially he remained in contact with his friend when he moved to Ireland. Igor said Puska ‘didn’t have any problems’ and he couldn’t understand what could have turned him into a killer.
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‘I can’t explain it,’ Igor said. ‘Perhaps he had some short circuit (in his brain) that made him do this.
‘When he was a young man he had several girlfriends as usual before he left to Prague.
‘When he moved to Ireland we called each other on the phone. He didn’t even have any problems with his wife.
‘Who doesn’t argue in family?’
Igor’s father, Jan, 57, described Puska as a ‘righteous boy’ and claimed that he seemed ‘normal and fine’ when the family returned home on holiday.
Puska has no previous convictions, although he was cautioned for having sex with an underage girl when he too was below the age of consent in his homeland.
The father-of-five was unemployed and living of disability benefits when Ashling was killed, on the towpath of the Grand Canal, in Tullamore, County Offaly, on January 12 last year.
Gardai told reporters married Puska, whose wife, Lucia, stood by him at his trial, messaged women on dating app, Badoo, prior to the murder. CCTV showed him ‘stalking’ other women in the town, which is around 60 miles west of Dublin, in the hours before he attacked Ashling at random.
He stabbed her 11 times in the neck in broad daylight, then left her dying in brambles beside the canal. The promising musician, who was an accomplished fiddle player, had gone to the canal after work to exercise and died at 3.31pm. The time of her death was recorded on the Fitbit watch she as wearing.
Puska initially confessed to her murder, telling detectives: ‘I did it. I murdered. I am the murderer.’ But he later retracted this confession, saying it was made when he was drugged up on painkillers in hospital. Puska claimed his injuries – he suffered three stab wounds to his abdomen – were caused by the ‘real killer’ who attacked both himself and Ashling on the towpath.
Candles at a vigil in memory of Ms Murphy in Tullamore town park
Puska pictured at a harbour
He had been trying to help Ashling when witnesses caught him leaning over her body in the undergrowth, he claimed.
In reality, he had stabbed himself and spun a series of lies in a bid to save his own skin and evade justice.
The jury, at Dublin Central Criminal Court, took just over two hours to dismiss his account, later described as ‘nonsense’ by the trial judge.
Mr Justice Tony Hunt told the nine men and three women that he agreed with their verdict and that there was ‘evil’ in the room.