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GAA player’s family ‘to fight on for justice’ after trial verdict blow

By Adrian Rutherford

The family of a GAA player who died after being assaulted has vowed to continue their fight for justice after a jury failed to reach a verdict against the man accused of his manslaughter.

Conor McCusker, who was the brother of former Derry vice-captain Niall McCusker, died in hospital two days after being attacked outside a Cookstown nightclub in April 2009.

Yesterday, despite deliberating for three hours at Dungannon Crown Court, the jury was unable to decide if Chris Murphy was guilty of killing the 31-year-old.

He was, however, unanimously convicted of assaulting Mr McCusker, causing him grievous bodily harm.

A decision will be taken next week on whether Murphy (23), from Tullagh Drive in Cookstown, should face a retrial before a new jury on the manslaughter charge.

Outside the court a spokesman for the McCusker family read a statement in which they indicated their determination to get justice for Conor.

“We are completely appalled at this outcome,” he said. “Justice has not been served for Conor, and we intend to continue the fight for justice for him.

“After the loss of Conor the family has endured over two years of waiting for trial, almost six weeks of a trial, and the family now has to continue the search for justice.”

Mr McCusker, who was from Ballinderry on the Tyrone/Derry border, suffered serious head injuries after being hit while out with his brother on April 19, 2009.

The trial had previously heard how Murphy had admitted pushing Mr McCusker into a pillar near the Mint Cafe Bar at James Street. Mr McCusker was transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery, but died two days later from a subdural haematoma — a build-up of blood on the brain.

After a six-week trial the jury was sent out yesterday morning to consider its verdict.

But after an hour the panel of eight women and three men returned to say they were having difficulties in reaching a decision on the manslaughter charge.

Following a further two hours of deliberations, Mr Justice McLaughlin explained that he would be willing to accept a majority verdict on which at least 10 of them could agree.

However, after returning to the courtroom for a third time and informing the judge they still could not reach a decision, the jury was discharged from that duty.

The judge instructed them to concentrate on trying to agree a verdict on the second count — that Murphy had unlawfully caused grievous bodily harm to Mr McCusker. Within 15 minutes the jury returned to deliver its unanimous guilty verdict.

Murphy was released on continuing bail. The case was adjourned to next Friday, June 24, when it is expected the prosecution will indicate if he should face a retrial.

Tragic end to a normal night out

It began as a normal Saturday night, but it turned to tragedy for the McCusker family.

Two years ago Conor and his brother Niall, then vice-captain of the Derry GAA team, travelled to Cookstown for an evening out.

The Mid-Ulster town is known for its thriving nightlife, but it has also gained a reputation for drink-fuelled violence. On April 19, 2009 it claimed another life. Conor suffered what would prove fatal injuries after being attacked outside the Mint Cafe Bar in James Street. He was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital but died two days later.

Mr McCusker, who was 31, belonged to one of the strongest GAA families in Ballinderry, a rural parish which straddles the Tyrone-Derry border.

When he died, Conor had been carrying an organ donor card. His organs were later donated to eight patients awaiting transplants. A priest at his funeral remarked how Conor had given new hope to others even after his tragic death.

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