Man fails to overturn conviction for murdering Dungannon man in front of his family

Eamonn Hughes
Eamonn Hughes

A man jailed for murdering a father as he walked home from his daughter’s 18th birthday party failed in a bid to overturn his conviction.

Judges threw out Martin Murray’s appeal against being found guilty of the fatal knife attack on Eamonn Hughes in Dungannon, seven years ago.

They also rejected co-defendant Kevin Toye’s challenge to being convicted of attempting to murder two women by driving a hijacked taxi at them as they tended the dying stab victim.

Murray and Toye, both aged 28, were among four men imprisoned 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.

Murray was sentenced to at least 18 years in prison, while Toye was ordered to serve a minimum 10 years behind bars.

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, formerly of Windmill Drive, Dungannon, 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.

But Lord Justice Higgins dismissed his appeal after backing the trial judge’s verdict that Martin Murray displayed aggression first.

“Stabbing the deceased in the heart was plainly more than was necessary to protect the appellant from assault by a belt,” he said.

Toye, with a former address at Windmill Drive in the town, was appealing his convictions for attempting to murder Martina Donaghy and her daughter Emma.

The court heard he was behind the wheel of the hijacked taxi which hit them at speed as they knelt around Mr Hughes.

Both women had to undergo surgery for serious injuries inflicted by the car.

Toye’s lawyers claimed it had been wrongly concluded that there was any intent to murder.

However, Lord Justice Higgins, who heard the appeal with Mr Justice McLaughlin and Sir Anthony Hart, rejected claims that the taxi was only taken in a bid to escape from the scene.

“A vehicle wrongly handled is as much a lethal weapon as a firearm or a knife,” he pointed out.

“In all these circumstances the judge’s conclusion that there existed an intent to kill was justified.”

The appellants, who appeared by prison video-link, walked out as it became clear their challenges were being rejected.

Martin Murray, his cousin Liam, formerly of Windmill Court, and McDonagh, once of Kew Gardens in Ballymena, also all mounted appeals against their sentences.

But dismissing their cases, Lord Justice Higgins rejected claims that the prison terms were manifestly excessive.

“We accept that the sentences imposed in this case were at the upper end of the range for such offences,” he said.

“However, the seriousness of this confrontation, which was sought out rather than arising spontaneously, and the extended incident to which it gave rise and its consequences, cannot be underestimated.”

The judge confirmed: “We are not persuaded that the verdicts in this case are thereby unsafe, nor do we have any sense of unease about their correctness.”