‘He is a dangerous sexual predator and everyone should know his name’: Sexual assault victim faces attacker at emotional sentencing hearing

Denis O'Donovan. Photo: Facebook.

A WOMAN who was kidnapped and sexually assaulted by a Limerick father of one bravely faced her attacker in court and told him: “I refuse to let you destroy the rest of my life.”

Denis O’Donovan (38), who is well known in the construction industry as a machine operator and building site grounds worker, was for the first time unmasked as a sex offender after a judge lifted reporting restrictions in the case.

The victim told Mr O’Donovan’s sentencing hearing that “he is a dangerous sexual predator and everyone should know his name”.

Mr O’Donovan, with an address at Ballyryan, Donohill, County Tipperary, had pleaded not guilty at his trial last April to one count of falsely imprisoning the woman, as well as three counts of sexually assaulting her, and one count of assault causing her harm, on the night of January 17, 2020.

A jury at Limerick Circuit Criminal Court did not accept Mr O’Donovan’s pleas and convicted him on all but one alleged sexual assault.

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Detective Garda Chris Cowan, of Bruff Garda Station, told the sentencing hearing that Mr O’Donovan imprisoned and sexually assaulted the victim while he was on bail for an aggravated burglary, in which he used an axe to break into another woman’s house as she slept at 2am on March 17, 2019.

Prosecution barrister Lily Buckley BL told the court that, on the night in question, Mr O’Donovan called to the victim’s rural home and, when the lady ventured outside with a torch to see who was there, he “pulled her into his car and kept her against her will”.

Mr O’Donovan drove the woman to an isolated area and started to choke her before sexually assaulting her.

“She was pinned, her hips were wedged between the two front seats, and she was being choked,” said Ms Buckley.

The victim told Gardaí she was not expecting Mr O’Donovan at her home, and denied his claims made after his arrest that he had called to her home to deliver cannabis.

Mr O’Donovan was arrested on two occasions and has always denied sexually assaulting the woman.

He was eventually charged after his DNA was found in salvia discharge discovered on the victim’s underwear. His DNA was also discovered on a cardigan the woman was wearing on the night.

The DNA results produced by Forensic Science Ireland “strongly supported” that Mr O’Donovan had sexually assaulted the victim.

‘Absolutely terrifying, traumatising, degrading, and disgusting’

Gardaí found the victim’s torch in a briar-covered ditch where she said she had hid from Mr O’Donovan, as well as car tyre marks in the area where he assaulted her.

Fighting back tears, the woman read her victim impact statement, describing the “absolutely terrifying, traumatising, degrading, and disgusting” attack.

“I was dragged into his car, driven at speed down the road, and had to try to escape by jumping out of a moving car, only for him to grab me with both hands choking me violently, pinning me down with one hand on my throat while he sexually assaulted me in a disgusting degrading way,” she said.

“No words can ever fully describe the absolute terror of being choked and believing I was going to die.

“After the attack I couldn’t eat or sleep, I used to stay awake at night listening for fear of him returning.

“A year after the attack I couldn’t cope with the trauma anymore. I was suicidal and was going to kill myself, I had it all planned, I had a breakdown and ended up in hospital spending weeks in a secure mental health unit.”

The woman said she had “changed from being a happy confident person who loved the outdoors, hiking, and walking to not being able to leave my house for years.”

“I turned to alcohol to try to block out the trauma. I went from never really being a big drinker to developing a serious alcohol problem,” she said.

“After all of this for him to put me through a trial, which was so daunting as I had never been to court in my life before all of this, to have to sit and listen to his outrages and disgusting lies felt like another attack.”

The woman said she wanted to thank the Director of Public Prosecutions for bringing the case against her attacker, as well as the judge and jury.

The victim also thanked a female friend for supporting her and “all the guards involved in this case, in particular Garda Noelle Fitzgerald and Garda Robert Young, and especially I want to thank Detective Garda Chris Cowan for all his hard work on this case and for the kindness and compassion he has shown to me.”

‘I did not sexually assault her, intentionally’

Mr O’Donovan’s barrister said he continues to maintain his innocence in respect of his conviction for sexual assaulting the victim.

Mr O’Donovan admitted to Gardaí he called to the victim’s home on the night and that he pulled her back into his car, despite initially telling them the woman was not in his car on the night in question.

He also suggested that the victim was intoxicated from drink and drugs, but there was no actual evidence of this.

When the victim’s allegations were put to him by Gardaí, Mr O’Donovan said was “mad” and he had “not put a hand on that girl”.

When Gardaí showed him photos of the woman’s injures he replied: “That’s not my work, it looks more like self-harm to be honest”.

Mr O’Donovan admitted he had drank several pints on the night, and suggested that the victim was making false accusations against him because she had been blackmailing him – again an allegation for which there was no evidence.

When Gardaí put the DNA evidence linking him to the victim’s underwear and clothing, Mr O’Donovan replied: “I’ve no answer to that.”

He later told Gardaí that “during the hopping and trotting” inside his car on the night, the victim’s underwear fell down and “maybe my spit ended up in them”.

Mr O’Donovan, who spent 173 days in custody awaiting sentence, later admitted to Gardaí that his theory about his salvia “sounds like a load of sugar”.

He told Gardaí: “I falsely imprisoned her but I did not sexually assault her, intentionally.”

Judge Dermot Sheehan said he needed time to consider his sentence and remanded Mr O’Donovan in continuing custody for sentence on June 7.