Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Judge to set life tariff as bath killer appeals his conviction

A former Ballymena man will learn next week how much of his life sentence he must serve before being freed for drowning his drunk partner almost 16 years ago.

However, Belfast Crown Court heard yesterday that 50-year-old William Mawhinney has already launched an appeal against his conviction last month.

Defence QC Patrick Lyttle told Mr Justice Weir that Mawhinney “maintains his innocence” in the murder of his former partner Lorraine Elizabeth Mills in May 1995 in the Staffa Drive home they had shared with their two daughters.

Mr Lyttle described the jury's majority 10-2 verdict as “perverse” given the weight of the evidence in the case.

During his trial last year, the court heard that 35-year-old Ms Mills was so drunk — seven times over the drink-driving limit — that she could have simply drowned in her own bath in her Ballymena home.

The state pathologist for Northern Ireland, Professor Jack Crane, concluded that it was “quite conceivable she had lost consciousness while in the bath, resulting in accidental submergence and drowning”.

Professor Crane later said he also agreed with Mr Lyttle that Ms Mills “either falls asleep or goes into a coma... and slips down into the bath”.

However, the jury of five men and seven women, who deliberated for just over five hours over the course of two days, accepted the evidence of Mawhinney's 22-year-old daughter and that of the defendant’s estranged wife.

His daughter Kelly claimed that she remembered as a youngster witnessing her mother being drowned by her father.

She also claimed her mother that morning had been “sober ... in high spirits ... and singing her favourite song, Danny Boy”.

Mawhinney's estranged wife Gwen claimed that he had “boasted” to her that he had “got away with murder”. However, she accepted that while Mawhinney had allegedly confessed in 2002, she kept his secret for six years before going to police after the couple had separated.

Mr Justice Weir said he wished to consider the matter of the tariff and will sentence Mawhinney, of Highfield Road, Gracehill, March, in Cambridgeshire, next Wednesday.

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