Victim often came home bloodstained - court told

Countless possible explanations are available for how the blood of a man hacked to death was found on the shirt of one of three fellow travellers convicted of his murder, the Court of Appeal heard today.

A defence lawyer claimed victim John Mongan was often involved in fights with others at family gatherings which ended in him coming home bloodstained.

Dermot Fee QC also questioned the reliability of evidence given by Mr Mongan’s wife Julia, who witnessed the fatal attack at their home in west Belfast three years ago.

Her testimony helped secure guilty verdicts against Derry men Christopher Stokes, Edward Stokes and Martin Stokes.

They were sentenced to a combined total of at least 58 years in prison but are all now seeking to overturn their convictions.

Mr Mongan, 30, was felled by a suspected blow from an axe after intruders broke into his house on Fallswater Street in February 2008.

The father of three was killed in front of his heavily pregnant wife, suffering up to 50 wounds, some possibly inflicted by a sword or machete.

The killers were said to have smashed through a bedroom door to get at their target.

Edward Stokes, 39, has been ordered to serve at least 22 years of a life sentence, while Christopher Stokes, 35, was given a minimum 20 year tariff.

Martin Stokes, who was just 15 at the time of the murder, was handed a minimum 16-year term.

Mr Mongan’s wife, who was due to give birth the day after the killing, described how she had pleaded with the intruders not to attack him.

She said in evidence that she witnessed the murder and named all three defendants as the killers.

A central part of the appeal involves an attack on the reliability of Mrs Mongan’s evidence.

She claimed to have seen the intruders faces as they attacked her husband, although other witnesses stated that the men’s faces were covered when they emerged from the house.

Mr Fee, representing Edward Stokes, told the court that Mrs Mongan “again and again alters her position to try to deal with problems that have arisen” in her evidence.

He also attempted to set out other possible reasons for how blood from the murder victim could have ended up on the shirt of his client.

The barrister said fights often broke out at gatherings which resulted in Mr Mongan coming home bloodied.

“When the families get together for these occasions, whether christenings, engagements, weddings, blessings, very frequently they end up with fisticuffs, there’s blood and John was involved in this,” he argued.

“If it was John’s blood how could it possibly be on a shirt? There are innumerable explanations for a superficial transfer.”

The appeal continues.