Man bids to overturn conviction for murder of Dungannon father Eamonn Hughes

Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast,co,uk          2-6-2011'Father of three Eamonn Hughes pictured at his daughter's 18th at birthday party just an hour before he was stabbed to death in Dungannon, County Tyrone after leaving the party.    Paul Higgins Court Copy via M&M News Services

Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast,co,uk 2-6-2011'Father of three Eamonn Hughes pictured at his daughter's 18th at birthday party just an hour before he was stabbed to death in Dungannon, County Tyrone after leaving the party. Paul Higgins Court Copy via M&M News Services

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A man jailed for killing a father as he walked home from his daughter’s 18th birthday party is to seek to go before the UK’s highest court in a bid to overturn his murder conviction.

Martin Murray is serving a minimum 18-year sentence for the fatal knife attack on Eamonn Hughes in Dungannon, seven years ago.

Earlier this week, senior judges in Belfast refused leave to certify his case to go for appeal to the Surpreme Court.

But Murray’s legal team confirmed they will now petition directly for a hearing in London, arguing it involves a point of law of general public importance.

Their challenge centres around claims he was denied a fair trial because the judge who sat without a jury had also been exposed to previous convictions at earlier bail hearings.

Murray, 28, and formerly of Windmill Drive, Dungannon, was among four men jailed for for offences connected to the killing in September 2008.

Mr Hughes was stabbed in the chest in front of his family and friends as they made their way home following the birthday celebrations at a local club.

Kevin Toye, 28, was ordered to serve at least 10 years behind bars for attempting to murder two women by driving a hijacked taxi at them as they tended the dying stab victim.

Murray’s cousin, 28-year-old Liam Murray, received an indeterminate sentence of at least five years for causing an affray at the scene of the murder.

A fourth man, William McDonagh, 30, was also convicted of affray and given an extended custodial sentence of eight years, with an extra five years on licence.

Witnesses recalled seeing them all emerge from a taxi to confront the group on the town’s Lisnahull Road.

Martin Murray had admitted having a knife but claimed it was only used in self defence.

At one stage in the altercation Mr Hughes was said to have struck out at him with a belt.

In July this year the Court of Appeal dismissed Martin Murray’s challenge to the murder conviction after backing the trial judge’s verdict that he displayed aggression first.

Defence lawyers returned to court last week to seek authorisation to mount a fresh appeal at the Supreme Court.

Barrister Sean Devine argued that the case “pushes the envelope” of ensuring his client received a fair trial.

Although leave was denied, Murray’s legal team are to press ahead with attempts to secure a hearing.

Solicior Ciaran Toner, of Finucane Toner law firm, said: “We are going to directly petition the Supreme Court because we strongly believe there is a point of public importance.

“Judge alone cases are becoming increasingly prevalent in the criminal justice system.

“The central point of the appeal is not that the trial judge was biased, it is that because of a failing in the system it could give an appearance of bias.”

Mr Toner added: “This is classic case where justice should not just be done, but also must be seen to be done.”

It is understood that Liam Murray is to mount a similar application at the Supreme Court over his conviction for affray.