A jury who convicted a man of murdering his ex-lover in a laundrette shooting were wrongly denied the chance to consider alternative manslaughter charges, the Court of Appeal heard yesterday.
Lawyers for Fred McClenaghan argued there was enough evidence to back his claim to have accidentally killed Marion Millican during a struggle in Portstewart, Co Londonderry in March 2011.
Judgment was reserved in the 54-year-old’s attempt to have his murder conviction overturned for a second time.
Mrs Millican, a 51-year-old mother of four, was fatally wounded by an antique shotgun blast after being confronted by McClenaghan at her place of work.
He claimed his intention had been to take his own life in front of her.
McClenaghan, formerly of Broad Street in Magherafelt, has twice been unanimously convicted of the murder.
His original conviction was quashed on a technicality and a retrial ordered.
However, in 2014 he was again found guilty of murder after the prosecution rejected a plea to manslaughter.
McClenaghan’s legal team are now arguing that a misdirection during the retrial rendered the process flawed.
Although the jury considered a lesser charge of manslaughter by diminished responsibility, it was contended that they should also have been asked to adjudicate on the same offence on two alternative grounds: gross negligence or unlawful act.
McClenaghan was absent as his second appeal against conviction got under way.
Senior judges were told he did not want to be produced from prison where he is serving a minimum 16-year sentence.
Setting out grounds of challenge, defence counsel argued there had been strong evidence to put the alternative charges of manslaughter by gross negligence or unlawful act before the jury.
John McCrudden QC set out how, in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, his client had described the gun going off during a struggle.
The barrister also referred to a statement McClenaghan provided during police interviews where he claimed his intention was to have Mrs Millican witness his own suicide.
The defendant expressed remorse for what he said was his former lover’s accidental death, the court was told.
The three appeal judges, Lord Justice Gillen, Lord Justice Weatherup and Madam Justice McBride, heard the account given at trial by a co-worker in the laundrette.
She recalled McClenaghan entering, firing a first shot into the ground, “shouting and roaring like a mad man” and trying to get Mrs Millican to go outside to talk.
Mr McCrudden contended this amounted to strong evidence meeting the criteria for both unlawful act manslaughter and gross negligence manslaughter.
“He (McClenaghan) entered the cramped surroundings of that laundrette with a loaded shotgun,” the barrister said.
“He’s a man coming in looking quite angry, to put it neutrally, discharging (the gun) into the ground and he’s pulling and struggling with her.
“It’s inconceivable that these two matters should not have been left to the jury.”
Following submissions Lord Justice Gillen pledged to deliver judgment in the appeal as soon as possible.