In a dramatic turn of events this afternoon, Co Londonderry man Fred McClenaghan finally admitted his guilt and was jailed for life for the shotgun murder of his former lover 51-year-old Marion Millican.
It was the culmination of the latest of three murder trials, after the mother-of-four was blasted in the chest at point blank range by McClenaghan who had gone to the Portstewart laundrette where she had worked on March 11, 2011.
Today his Belfast Crown Court trial was to hear further evidence regarding the circumstances following the shooting, but this did not happen.
Then after lunch, defence QC John McCrudden applied to trial judge Mr Justice Colton for the murder charge to be put to McClenaghan again.
Mr McCrudden thanked the judge and jury of seven women and three men, and said that in a case of “as a result of the time afforded to us I have been instructed by my client to have him re-arraigned on the charge of murder”.
McClenaghan, who until today claimed that the killing of Mrs Millican was an accident committed as he botched his own suicide, replied “guilty” in a quiet voice when the murder charge was read to him again.
Mr Justice Colton then told the 55-year-old from Broad Street in Magherafelt, “You have pleaded guilty to the offence of murder and that being so the only sentence I can impose on you by law is life imprisonment.”
The judge added that next month he will hold a tariff hearing to determine how long the county Londonderry man must serve before he is considered for release by the Parole Commissioners.
In the past McClenaghan, who has only ever admitted the manslaughter of Marion Millican, was twice convicted and jailed for life with a tariff of 16 years being fixed, both of which were subsequently overturned on appeal.
BACKGROUND TO MURDER CASES SAGA:
McClenaghan’s previous trials could not be mentioned in reporting of the most recent proceedings.
During each of the trials, he maintained he accidently shot her while intending to kill himself in front of her.
He denied murder in his 2012 trial, but was convicted after 80 minutes of deliberation by the jury.
This was quashed by the Court of Appeal, and at a re-trial in 2014 the prosecution rejected a guilty plea to her manslaughter, and a jury again convicted him of murder after 75 minutes of deliberation.
The Court of Appeal quashed this once more, but judges also again decided it was in the public interest to order another re-trial on the murder charge.
His trials had heard that after splitting from her husband Kenneth in September 2009, Mrs Millican had formed a relationship with McClenaghan the following year – a relationship which was described as being peppered with “episodes of violence”.
At the start of this latest trial last week, prosecution QC Richard Weir claimed that when, because of it, that relationship soured and ended around Christmas that year, McClenaghan became consumed by “a burning resentment of her”.
What was more, by the following March a planned reconciliation between Mrs Millican and former husband Ken was “well advanced”.
While Mr Weir also said that McClenaghan talked of suicidal feelings, he had confided in a nurse he wanted to kill his former partner.
The court heard that McClenaghan told one counsellor: “I am afraid of what I am capable of. My plan is to kill my girlfriend and myself.”
He also told a psychiatric nurse he felt abandoned by his girlfriend and was angry at her for ending their relationship.
On the day of the shooting McClenaghan armed with a 100-year-old antique shotgun, never registered with police throughout its history, and went to the launderette to confront Mrs Millican, who was having lunch with her work colleague Pamela Henry.
As he appeared, Mrs Millican said: “You are not going to believe who this is.”
McClenaghan grabbed her by the arm, telling her: “You are coming with me for a talk.”
Fearing for her life, she refused. McClenaghan initially fired a shot into the floor, before her colleague managed to escape.
Moments later there was another blast, leaving Mrs Millican dying, face down in a pool of blood.
McClenaghan fled, dumping his shotgun in a ditch by the roadside as he drove to Kilrea where he confessed to the sister of a former partner he had just “shot a girl”.
He also claimed that he wanted only to talk to her but she pulled on the shotgun and as they struggled it went off.
During eight interviews, McClenaghan remained mostly silent.
His solicitor presented police with a prepared statement in which McClenaghan said: “I didn’t intend to kill or harm Marion... her death was an accident.
“I am truly sorry.”