Coalisland killer 'couldn't remember' terrible events

THE judge presiding in the case of a Coalisland man who admitted the manslaughter of his elderly neighbour at the victim's home exactly three years ago, has told a court that he must consider whether a life sentence would be appropriate to mark the gravity of the crime.

Horrifying details of the attack on 76 year-old Patrick McGrath and his 67 year-old sister Philomena at the home they shared on December 18 2004, were revealed at Belfast Crown Court on Friday.

Last month, Arthur Francis Murray, 45, from Coole Road, pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr McGrath, but guilty to his manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Details of the horrific attack on Patrick and Philomena McGrath at the home they shared on December 18 2004, were revealed at Belfast Crown Court on Friday.

Last month, Arthur Francis Murray, 45, from Coole Road, pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr McGrath, but guilty to his manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

In relation to a charge of attempting to murder Philomena McGrath, Murray entered a plea of not guilty, but guilty to causing her grievous bodily harm with intent.

On Friday, after hearing submissions from prosecution and defence barristers in the case, Mr Justice Hart said he appreciated that the family of Patrick and Philomena McGrath had had to live with the consequences of the "terrible events" for a long time.

However, the Judge said he wished to take time to reflect on the matters before the court because, he said, the sentencing of Arthur Murray presented a "difficult problem".

A prosecution barrister told the court that the first anyone knew about the devastating incident was on the morning after Murray's attack.

Philomena McGrath telephoned her brother Colm in a distressed state and told him that someone had tried to kill her. At this stage, the court heard, Ms McGrath was unaware of the whereabouts of her brother Patrick.

An autopsy on Patrick McGrath - who was discovered in his bed - indicated the cause of death was consistent with suffocation.

The prosecuting barrister added, however, that the author of the autopsy report, Professor Crane, indicated there was underlying heart distress on the part of Mr McGrath, the severity of which could have precipitated a heart attack at any time.

Details of a vicious attack on Philomena McGrath were also presented to the court.

She told police she was confronted by Murray, who demanded money from her.

At one stage, Ms McGrath was thrown down the stairs of her home and was rendered unconscious for some time. When she regained consciousness, said the prosecutor, she raised the alarm.

As part of the ensuing police investigation, Murray's home was searched and items were taken away for forensic examination.

According to the prosecuting barrister, fibres recovered at the point of entry to the victims' home matched with fibres recovered in the defendant's home. In addition, blood found on a jacket taken from Murray's home was identified as Ms McGrath's.

During interview, Murray told police he had been to a "works do" on the night of the attack and that, after being left home in a taxi, he had fallen asleep until the next morning.

Reports

Reference was made in court to a number of medical reports conducted on Murray, who was found to have mental health problems for a number of years prior to the attack in 2004, had been consuming cannabis and alcohol heavily, and who had, at some stage before the incident, stopped taking his medication.

Addressing the court, Mr Justice Hart said: "One of the issues I feel I must address is whether the imposition of a life sentence is appropriate to mark the extreme gravity of (the) crimes in themselves, but also to ensure that when the time comes for the defendant to be considered for release one can, in so far as is possible, seek to ensure that this man will not be released until those who are competent to judge are satisfied that he will take his medication and will not drink or take cannabis."

Defence barrister, James Gallagher QC, said Murray had arrived in Northern Ireland in 1997, initially working in a factory before training as a joiner. A short time afterwards, said Mr Gallagher, Murray began to suffer significant depression.

Murray's barrister said there can be no doubt that prior to the offences, he had a "quite well established" pattern of mental health problems.

Mr Gallagher stressed that Murray maintains he has no recollection of the "terrible events" which occurred.

"One thing he (Murray) stresses", said the defence barrister, "is that he had no animosity towards the McGraths which would have led to any offences, never mind of this gravity. He remembers them as being kindly, supportive and friendly to him. His reaction to what happened despite him having no recollection of being involved, is one of dismay and astonishment that these events had occurred."

Mr Gallagher told the Judge that it would appear Murray had committed the offences because of his mental illness. The barrister stressed: "It is not a case that he would be released into society without any monitoring or mental help. There is nothing at present to indicate that he would be at risk of committing anything like this again."