Woman stabbed, bound, suffocated pensioner three years ago today – could she be free this month?
A long-time friend of Eddie Girvan has spoken of the “shock” felt in the community at his death exactly three years ago today – and at the “anger” over a mere three-year term handed to his killer.
John Milliken, who had been an elder at the Presbyterian church Mr Girvan used to attend, said there was a feeling his killer – serial violent criminal Margaret Henderson-McCarroll – had managed to “get off lightly”.
She had stabbed Mr Girvan, tied him up, suffocated him with a gag, and left him to die at his home.
Henderson-McCarroll, then aged 29, got a six year sentence for the crime after the charge was dropped from murder to manslaughter – half in custody, half on licence.
She was also banned from driving for a year, because after the stabbing she stole his car, injected herself with drugs, drove to Belfast and crashed the vehicle.
She was taken into custody soon after his body was found on January 18, 2016 and was not given bail before her sentencing – something which suggests that, if the judge allowed time already spent in custody to be taken into account, she could be free imminently.
Asked about this, the Department for Justice would not comment.
Henderson-McCarroll, a heroin addict, claimed that 67-year-old Mr Girvan had owed her money for sex and that he had attacked her before she stabbed him.
Mr Milliken, a 72-year-old retired civil servant, said his death was “not at all pleasant – a bit gruesome,” and had “shocked the neighbourhood”.
He said Mr Girvan retired at around 60, having worked in the construction industry from around age 16, latterly as a plumber.
He lived on Station Road – the main road through the small east Antrim settlement of Greenisland.
“I go down Station Road, and there’s hardly a time I drive by it that I don’t think about him and the whole sad situation,” said Mr Milliken.
“The house got sold about a year later. I knew his neighbours, and naturally they were very, very shocked.”
A motorbike enthusiast and antique-collector, he would have “typically gone once a month on a Sunday evening” to church, but “kind of dropped out” in his later years, said Mr Milliken.
He estimates Mr Girvan, who had two daughters, got divorced at least 12 years ago. After the divorce “loneliness and a bit of depression” took hold, and he drank heavily sometimes – though “certainly wasn’t an alcoholic”.
Though the Irish News reported that a Chinese woman claimed to have married him in 2008, Mr Milliken said he did not remarry.
When it comes to the sentencing, he suggested eight to 10 years might have been more appropriate, adding: “Certainly there was a bit of upset – anger, maybe in one or two – that it was so seemingly short... she seemed to get off lightly.”
When it came to Henderson-McCarroll’s claims that he owed her money for sex, and Mr Milliken said it was “quite possible that was the kind of relationship he had” with her, though he had not known him to do that in the past.
He said Mr Girvan was “a kind-hearted guy” who “maybe didn’t know when to lay off a relationship”.
If he had known he was so involved with her in the last months of his life, he would have said: “Eddie, you’d be better leaving off with her.”
The barrister for Henderson-McCarroll suggested she acted out of an “excess of self-defence” when she fatally attacked the pensioner, who had a litany of health complaints and had recently suffered a stroke.
A detailed examination of a pre-sentence hearing in the case shows a handful of details about Mr Girvan’s wellbeing in the run-up to his death which were not widely reported at the time.
A medical report read by Mr Justice Treacy at the hearing recounts in May 2015 the victim “was admitted to hospital suffering a mini stroke and lost the sight of his right eye”.
He “had a history of diabetes, alcohol excess and depression” the court heard, and had had visits from a social worker.
Defence lawyer John McCrudden QC, told the court Henderson-McCarroll said she had been attacked by a “stick sword” after being “dealt with in a patronising, dismissive, contemptuous fashion” in a row about money at Mr Girvan’s house.
The judge interjected: “Well, that’s what she says.”
The defence lawyer said Mr Girvan had “patronisingly told her to sit down”.
The judge intervened to say: “The only two people there [are] the deceased – who obviously can’t speak for himself – and there’s your client.”
Turning to pictures of the scene, the judge continued: “And let’s remind ourselves of the photographic evidence ...”
Mr McCrudden responded: “I’ve never seen a murder scene that isn’t gruesome my Lord,” then corrected himself: “Or sorry – killing scene.”
Justice Treacy said: “It’s the only case that I personally have dealt with in which somebody has been gagged by the mouth, by the hands, and also by the feet … There are a number of ties, I think it’s three ties were used to bind his hands … This is after he’d been stabbed.”
He quoted from a pathology report saying the gag “pushed the tongue back and completely occluded the back of his mouth and upper airways”.
It was not clear if this, or one of two knife wounds (the biggest being a four-inch deep wound to the chest, puncturing his lung), killed him.
The judge pointed out Henderson-McCarroll failed to call help. Mr McCrudden said when she had left the house she was “in a very vulnerable state” and panicked.
Mr Girvan was still shouting, and she “did not realise how badly he was injured”.
Mr McCrudden said “perhaps there was an excess of self-defence” when she had “retaliated” against Mr Girvan.
She was arrested in Belfast on an unrelated matter on the morning of January 18, before police pieced together what happened and later forced their way into the house.
Henderson-McCarroll had 100 previous convictions, including having bitten, punched and headbutted some victims, who included children, elderly men, and young women. A mother, she lost one of her children in 2012, with reportes describing it as having been “cot death”.