A 33-year-old Derry man who saw himself as a ‘knight in shining armour’ faces an extended jail term for knifing his uncle to death after involving himself in something which was none of his business, a court heard today.
James Anthony Healy, a father of one, of Hollymount Park in the Waterside, admits stabbing his 56-year-old uncle, Christopher McGaughey, following a set of arguments after a family get-together on October 30, 2011.
Healy was originally charged with murdering his uncle, but the prosecution accepted his guilty plea to the lesser charge of manslaughter given his genuine remorse and the possibility he did not intend his uncle’s death.
Derry Crown Court Judge Piers Grant said Healy had told authorities he felt he was protecting women from being physically abused, but that he was “no knight in shinning armour” given his own criminal record for domestic violence.
Defence QC Greg Berry said that a drunken Healy had wrongly perceived that bruises on his cousin’s arm had been caused by his uncle, and that this had a profound impact on him.
“In a nutshell,” explained Mr Berry, Healey then, “became involved in something he should not have”.
Prosection QC Liam McCollum told the court, sitting in Downpatrick Crown Court, that Healy went home and armed himself with baseball bat and returned to the family party to confront his uncle, who duly disarmed him. Healy fled the scene to his mother’s home, where he armed himself with two knives.
Mr McCollum said Healy later told police the knives were “never meant to be used, it was only a scare tactic”. However, the court also heard when uncle and son, armed with the baseball bat, arrived at the house there was a confrontation. It appeared Mr McGaughey swung the bat at Healy, but missed, and in the following struggle, he was stabbed once in the heart.
Mr Berry said Healy never intended to cause his uncle serious injury, let alone kill him, and it appeared the fatal blow was struck when both men fell during a scuffle and Mr McCaughey “ended up on top” of his nephew.
Mr Berry described the tragic and devasting events of that night as “a case of what ifs”, such as Healy wrong perceiving what his uncle had done, or following their first row, Mr McCaughey had not gone looking for his nephew, who has unfortunately armed himself. If any one of those things had not occurred, he added, it could have changed and impacted on the events of that night.
The defence lawyer said Healy had displayed genuine remorse from the outset, remorse for what he had done, and for the hurt he has inflicted and caused his uncle’s family.
Mr Berry said Healy’s remorse was neither belated, nor was it crocodile tears and that his guilty plea had spared everyone the ordeal of having to relive the tragic events of that night.
Healey will be sentenced next week.