Cleared of the same killing - twice
An Ulsterman has walked free from court after he was acquitted of the murder and manslaughter of the same person - in the first case of its kind in Northern Ireland.
At Antrim Crown Court sitting in Ballymena yesterday, 38-year-old Dale Kelly was found not guilty of the manslaughter of Peter Gamble - less than two years after he was cleared of murdering the new boyfriend of his former lover.
During the murder trial in March 2006 and throughout the subsequent manslaughter trial, Mr Kelly - from The Roddens in Larne - maintained his innocence, claiming he punched Mr Gamble (34) in self defence during an incident in Larne in 2004.
After an hour's deliberation yesterday, the jury returned a unanimous not guilty verdict.
Mr Kelly, wearing a lilac shirt, purple tie and dark grey suit, stood in the dock with his hands clasped as the jury of six men and six women filed into the room.
As the verdict was read out he looked up towards the ceiling for several seconds before sitting down and sobbing into his hands for several minutes.
Members of his family and his girlfriend, who were present throughout the manslaughter trial, also cried as the verdict was announced, while relatives of Mr Gamble walked quietly from the court.
As he left the court building yesterday afternoon, a relieved looking Mr Kelly declined to comment on the case other than to pay tribute to his legal team and family and friends.
His solicitor, Paul Farrell, said: "We are just very pleased with the result."
Mr Gamble began dating Cheryl-Ann Hodgins - the ex-partner of Mr Kelly - several months prior to his death.
Throughout both trials, Mr Kelly was painted by the prosecution as a man consumed by regret at the breakdown of his relationship with Cheryl-Ann Hodgkins and, overcome by jealousy, he assaulted her new boyfriend - punching Mr Gamble in the face and kicking him in the head as he lay unconscious on the ground.
The Crown argued that Mr Gamble was the unfortunate victim of a vicious love triangle - which culminated in his tragic death in The Roddens in Larne on August 10, 2004.
However, during interviews with police and giving evidence in court, Mr Kelly maintained that he punched Mr Gamble as he believed he was going to hit him during a chance encounter outside the home of Ms Hodgins while he walked his dogs.
Mr Gamble was knocked unconscious but was still alive when Mr Kelly dragged him into the hallway of Ms Hodgins' home and left him lying with a pillow under his head.
Mr Kelly returned to his nearby home, believing Mr Gamble had recovered, when he saw the light in the hallway of Ms Hodgins' home had been switched off. However, Mr Gamble was found dead by emergency services several hours later.
A post mortem examination found Mr Gamble died from a head injury sustained when the back of his head struck the ground.
It has never been ascertained how Mr Gamble sustained a second, less serious, fracture to the side of his skull.