Flawed directions were given to the jury which convicted three members of a Derry family for the murder of Jim McFadden, a court heard yesterday.
A senior Crown lawyer accepted the flaw in how a possible alternative offence of manslaughter against Brenda Meehan was dealt with during the trial.
She was found guilty, along with her husband James Meehan and son Sean Devenney, of the murder of Jim McFadden in May 2007.
The victim, a 42-year-old father of four, died of a ruptured heart caused by blows inflicted outside his home in Shantallow. He was beaten after returning with his family from a wedding reception in Redcastle, also attended by the Meehans and Devenney. The confrontation was said to have followed an earlier row over insults directed at the victim’s daughter.
Meehan (41) was jailed for a minimum of 14 years, his wife (42) given at least five years in prison, and Devenney (23) ordered to serve nine years.
The trio, all from the Galliagh area, are seeking to overturn their convictions at the Court of Appeal in Belfast. Both James Meehan and Sean Devenney had pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Mr McFadden, but their pleas were rejected by the prosecution.
In his submissions to the court yesterday, senior Crown counsel John Orr QC argued that the judge would almost be required to assist the jury during such a lengthy trial.
But he added: “With the caveat that as far as the manslaughter directions (for Brenda Meehan) are concerned I would accept that is flawed.”
He was asked by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, sitting with Lord Justices Higgins and Coghlin: “Did nobody point out to the learned trial judge that the manslaughter direction was demonstrably flawed in every respect?” Mr Orr said it was only on reading through the transcripts that it became clear.
Counsel for Brenda Meehan was then asked if he accepted that manslaughter was an alternative verdict available to the court. James Gallagher QC replied: “Yes.”
On Wednesday, lawyers for James Meehan claimed that the trial judge’s interventions confused jurors.
The trial judge said Mr McFadden had been a defenceless man whose killing deprived a devoted wife and four young children of a loving husband and father for the rest of their lives.
But Mr Brian McCartney QC, for James Meehan, told the Court of Appeal how witness allegations that his client stamped on the victim were never established.
He claimed there was no evidence any injuries inflicted could have individually caused death.
The barrister asked if Mr McFadden could have died as a result of some unforeseen crush injury. Mr McCartney stressed he was not implying any bias or partiality on the part of the trial judge. “But we are suggesting the trial judge may have strayed on a number of occasions from detachment required by a judge into a more adversarial role,” he told the court.
Judgement was reserved in the appeal. Sir Declan said: “We would like to consider the submissions and we will give our judgment in this matter as soon as we can.”