March 2018

John Tighe given life sentence for murdering 6½-month-old son

A man has been given a life sentence after being found guilty of murdering his 6½-month-old son in Co Mayo almost five years ago.

John Tighe (40), of Lavallyroe, Ballyhaunis, had pleaded not guilty to murdering Joshua Sussbier Tighe at his home on June 1st, 2013.

However, the jury of nine women and three men returned with a unanimous guilty verdict at 3pm on Friday after more than 7½ hours of deliberation.

Tighe attempted to speak to the baby’s mother, Natasha Sussbier, after she delivered an impact statement in which she detailed the trauma she has suffered since her son’s death. She walked past him without speaking.

In her statement, she told prosecuting counsel Paul Murray SC that Tighe had controlled her, lied to her face and that she finally realised he was not telling the truth when members of her family showed her the medical evidence that proved Joshua did not die accidentally.

She asked: “How can someone be so heartless as to lie to my face about something so serious?”

Following the death of her son, her “pride and joy”, she said she had never experienced such heartache and anger.

She said she could still feel the coldness of her baby’s hand as he lay lifeless in Tighe’s home and she recalled pleading: “Come back Joshua! Don’t leave mummy here.”

Ms Sussbier said that every time she visits his grave, she remembers her baby boy being buried.

Ms Sussbier said that when she heard the medical evidence she was afraid and did not want to believe it, but finally she realised that something sinister had happened. She said she still has questions over Joshua’s death and that only Tighe knows what happened to her boy.

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy sentenced Tighe to life in prison “as prescribed by law”.

The 40-year-old had always maintained that his son’s death was accidental, telling gardaí that he had carelessly left a wad of tissue within the baby’s reach while he went to the toilet while in the middle of changing his nappy.

When he returned, he said the baby was choking and must have put the wad into his own mouth.

The prosecution called expert witnesses who said that Joshua could not have formed or swallowed the wad, which was removed from his throat during a postmortem. It consisted of two pieces of scrunched-up tissue paper from different boxes, weighed 19g and measured 5cm by 3.5cm by 2.5cm.

During the trial, the jury heard that Tighe lived in Lavallyroe all his life and met Ms Sussbier through a friend in 2011. Tighe told gardaí he sent her 1,500 texts every week before she moved in with him in early 2012. Ms Sussbier soon became pregnant and Joshua was born in November of that year.

He was a healthy boy and Tighe told gardaí that he and Ms Sussbier were “delighted”.

Their relationship, however, became strained and Ms Sussbier moved out a few months after Joshua’s birth. They agreed to share custody of the boy.

On May 31st, 2013, Ms Sussbier and and her new boyfriend posted a message to Facebook stating they were in a relationship. Tighe collected Joshua from Ms Sussbier that evening and on the following afternoon, he choked to death.

The prosecution suggested that the Facebook message formed the background to boy’s death but Tighe told gardaí he had known about the relationship beforehand.

During the emergency call after Joshua choked, nurses told Tighe to hit, slap and tap the baby’s back and front to push the obstruction out.

When Tighe said he could see the blockage they told him to grab it and pull it out but he told them he could not and that the baby was not breathing.

By the time a doctor arrived, 23 minutes after Tighe made the call, Joshua was dead. The call was played several times to the jury who could hear Joshua’s strained breathing fading out.

Ms Sussbier, in her statement, said that she could not get the sound of her son taking his last breaths out of her head.

Forensic examiners found Joshua’s blood at the scene – on the floor, on a wall, on his clothing and on Tighe’s pyjama bottoms.

The postmortem showed the baby had a tear to his frenulum and injuries to the inside of his throat and tongue. Tighe told gardaí that these injuries must have been caused by his efforts to retrieve the tissue by putting his fingers into the child’s mouth.