Man who choked girlfriend after she refused to eat dinner he cooked is jailed

November 3, 2022

A man who tried to choke his girlfriend after she refused to eat a dinner he had cooked for her has been jailed for a total of three years.

Stephen Coveney-Ryan turned on Roisin MacNeilis after she had invited him into her home in Donegal Town after he had become homeless after the pair had met at Dublin’s Bus Aras just a few weeks earlier.

He threatened to kill her and her family and ‘bury them in a shallow grave’ after exploding one day in a fit of rage.

Coveney Ryan, aged 26, appeared before Letterkenny Circuit Court where he pleaded guilty to threatening to kill Ms MacNeilis , assaulting her and producing a knife.

The couple had met only a few weeks earlier on St Patrick’s Day, March 17th, 2021, by chance at Dublin’s Bus Aras and kept in contact by text. However, Coveney-Ryan called Ms MacNeilis one day and said he was homeless.

She invited him to stay with her at her home in Donegal Town and they began a relationship.

However, as the weeks went on Ms MacNeilis claimed he changed and became aggressive and jealous.

On July 10th, the accused finally snapped and attacked Ms MacNeilis.

The court was told that the accused had made dinner but Ms MacNeilis said she was not hungry but decided to eat a bowl of cereal instead.

He went for a walk and when he came back they initially went to separate bedrooms but Coveney Ryan later got int the bed beside Ms MacNeilis and then began to attack her.

He put his elbow into her neck and then put his hands around her neck and she was finding it hard to breath. Ms MacNeilis said she thought she was going to die at this point.

She managed to get to the front door but there were no keys in it and he followed her into the bathroom and began choking her again.

He constantly shouted at Ms MacNeilis who was eight weeks pregnant at this stage. He told her she wasn’t fit to be a mother and that he was going to drown her and kill them both.

During the course of the attack he is also charged with producing a fishing knife.

The torrent of abuse continued before she finally managed to jump out the window and he could only follow her a short distance as he was only wearing his boxer shorts.

She drove to the woods around Harvey’s Point around Donegal Town and managed to charge her phone and she began to receive threatening messages and calls.

In the calls he said he was going to chop her up and feed her to pigs and that he would also kill her parents and put them into the boot of the car and then bury them in a shallow grave.

She told her parents about her ordeal and on July 12th she contacted Gardai while in a very distressed state and made a statement of complaint.

Coveney-Ryan, with an address at O’Clerigh Avenue, Donegal Town but originally from Co Tipperary, was arrested and taken to Ballyshannon Garda Station to be interviewed.

The court was told that the accused admitted he hit the victim but suffered from mental health issues and disagreed with many of the claims put to him including choking his victim.

However, he later admitted the claims and claimed he was “psychotic” on the night and that he couldn’t believe that he had said such things to Ms MacNeilis.

The court was told that the accused is originally from Tipperary and has a number of previous charges for various incidents including burglary, theft, intoxication, breach of a barring order, possession of drugs and using threatening and abusive language.

His barrister, Mr David Byrnes, said his client was a lot calmer from the messages he had left on his victim’s phone saying he was also visibly upset when he heard the recordings again.

Mr Byrnes added that psychologist Dr Kevin Lambe had interviewed his client and said he was a man who needed help to navigate him through the psychotic episodes he was experiencing.

During his time in remand in prison, Coveney Ryan has also completed a number of courses including an ‘alternative to violence’ and Irish Red Cross course.

Mr Byrnes added that his client’s behaviour was unacceptable and had no place in society but asked Judge John Aylmer to craft in rehabilitation and suggested this was the most suitable direction.

Ms MacNeilis sat at the back of the courtroom nursing the couple’s infant daughter while a Garda read out her victim impact statement to the hushed court.

It told how she felt like she went from being the luckiest woman around to living in a horror show when she met Coveney Ryan.

She said how she had spent time working with the homeless and could not understand how Stephen treated her so badly when she took him in.

She added how she had hoped she would spend the rest of her life with Stephen but now questions if any of it was real and asks herself will she ever be able to trust anybody again. 

Worryingly, she also admitted that she fears for herself and her daughter when her ex-partner is released from prison.

Passing sentence Judge John Aylmer said the fact that a knife was produced during the incident only added to the terror of the victim and he placed it in the mid range of such offences meriting a sentence of five years in prison before mitgation.

In mitigation, he said he accepted his admission of guilty, plea of guilty and remorse as genuine noting he had done a number of courses in while in jail.

Judge Aylmer noted Coveney Ryan had a difficult upbringing and has been diagnosed with an emotionally unstable personality disorder.

Reflecting his guilty plea and his remorse, Judge Aylmer said he was reducing the sentence to one of four years and was also suspending the final 12 months of the sentence to encourage his rehabilitation.

The sentence was also backdated to when Coveney Ryan went into custody while Judge Aylmer also ordered the accused to abstain from alcohol and drugs and to comply with the prison resettlement programme.