A murderer suspected of taking a trophy photograph of his teenage victim is to have his minimum jail term reduced by two years, the Court of Appeal ruled yesterday. Senior judges backed submissions that Paul James Morrin appeared to have been penalised further for contesting the case that he stabbed Gerald O’Hagan to death in Derry.
Morrin (46) will now serve at least 18 years in prison, instead of the minimum 20 years originally imposed for the February 2006 killing.The victim was stabbed 15 times in the back and neck, severing the jugular vein, during an attack at Morrin’s Galliagh Park flat. His body was discovered hours after he had been out celebrating his 19th birthday. Morrin, a former process operator with Seagate, claimed to have woke in his flat, still drunk, and then found the victim lying in a bedroom. He challenged the sentence imposed on him after failing in an earlier bid to have his murder conviction overturned. Delivering judgement in the appeal, Mr Justice Hart said there was no argument that a higher starting point in sentencing was appropriate. The judge detailed a number of “macabre features” identified in the case, including the taking by Morrin of a perfectly framed photo of the victim after he had been killed, cigarette ash found on his body, and the unexplained presence of a meat cleaver at the scene. Mr Justice Hart, sitting with Lord Justice Higgins and Lord Justice Coghlin, said the court was satisfied the trial judge was entitled to form the conclusion that a trophy photograph may have been taken.
However, Morrin’s barrister, Brian McCartney QC, also argued that the trial judge appeared to have penalised him for contesting the case. Reference was made to the prosecution identifying his attempt to evade responsibility as an aggravating factor, and to his claims that the murder was either carried out by someone else or by him while sleepwalking as being “a complete charade”.
Mr Justice Hart pointed out that defendants cannot be punished further for contesting cases, no matter how incredible their defence, because they have the right to plead not guilty.
After the verdict was delivered one of the victim’s relatives stood up in the public gallery and shouted: “Shame on you.”