Detectives warned Londonderry man Jim McConnell that his life might be in danger just months before his murder, it emerged last night.
Mr McConnell was also arrested and questioned last Thursday after a drug search was carried out on his Woodland Avenue address in Prehen — the same address where he would be shot dead a week later. No charges were brought by police at the time and he was released.
It is now known that the 39-year-old Derry man — who was jailed for a drugs-related offence in 2007 — was shot four times in the body. Two other live bullets which were ejected when the gunman’s firearm jammed have also been found at the scene.
Forensic tests are now being carried out on the two live rounds and the four empty cartridges to determine what clues they will give to the identity of the man’s killers and the history of the handgun used. It is unclear whether the second armed man also fired.
The Court Service has confirmed that James McConnell was convicted at the Crown Court in Derry on June 8, 2007, on one count of conspiring to possess a controlled drug, namely class A drug cocaine, with intent to supply.
Mr McConnell received a jail sentence at the time of three years and six months, which was to be followed by 18 months probation.
It now appears likely he was still on probation at the time of his death, and it is also now known that police approached him in October 2008 about his personal safety.
In the second of two press conferences in as many days yesterday, Detective Superintendent Raymond Murray, speaking at Maydown PSNI station, refused to comment on speculation about whether the INLA or any other dissident group was responsible for the attack.
He did however confirm: “The gunman that shot him had difficulties with the firearm he was shooting. He worked at it until he managed to clear it. In the process he ejected two live rounds from the gun which we have found.
“The history of the weapon is of extreme interest to us and may point us to a group or individuals who may be responsible.”
He added: “Police have not linked this to the INLA and at the current time this is simply an active murder and that is what we have to try and concentrate on.”
Dt Insp Murray warned that this may not be last person targetted by the hitmen unless they are caught.
“There are no such things as legitimate targets — there can never be legitimate targets and we have to try and find out who did this. It is Jim McConnell now, tomorrow it could be somebody else,” he added.
Police have appealed for anyone who was in the Prehen area around the time of the shooting between midnight and 12.15am on Wednesday to contact them.
It is now believed that a silver Ford Fiesta had been parked outside Mr McConnell’s address at Woodland Avenue in the hours preceeding his murder.
A small white car is also believed to have taken the two gunmen from the scene of the murder towards Craigavon Bridge/Victoria Road area.
Community workers in the Creggan area, meanwhile, have said they would be willing to intervene to mediate between whoever is carrying out the attacks and those they are targeting.