A teenager has pleaded guilty to murdering Northern Ireland greengrocer Harry Holland nearly two years ago.
Sean Patrick McKee (18) from Ballymurphy Road in west Belfast made a dramatic last minute change of plea as his scheduled six-week trial was about to begin at Belfast Crown Court yesterday.
The teen, one of three people charged in connection with the killing, also pleaded guilty to a string of other charges including causing an affray on the night of the murder in September 2007.
He admitted two charges of |assault occasioning actual bodily harm against Louise Gilmore and Paul James McGorran in 2006, as well as making threats to kill against a third man, Brendan Rice.
And the defendant also put forward a guilty plea to separate counts of possessing offensive weapons including a blade, knives, a screwdriver and a hammer in and around the west Belfast area.
Three other charges — assault occasioning actual bodily harm against Mr Holland, possession of a screwdriver at Norfolk Drive, and making threats to kill against Mr Holland — were left on the court books.
Prosecution barrister Ciaran Murphy QC said he was content to leave the three charges on the books given the guilty plea.
In the dock yesterday McKee was dressed in a dark suit with a blue suit and striped tie. He was led into the dock handcuffed to a prison guard and showed little emotion, glancing towards the ground with his hands clasped as the charges were read to him. He spoke only to confirm his guilt.
The case was adjourned and McKee was remanded in custody. He is expected to be handed a mandatory life sentence when he re-appears before the court on June 25.
Mr Murphy QC said he would be asking the court to consider a clinical psychologist’s victim |impact assessments from one of Mr Holland’s sisters and daughters when imposing the jail term.
Meanwhile, McKee’s defence barrister James Gallagher QC said he would be urging the court to consider medical reports when considering the sentence.
Mr Holland, a popular |father-of-four who owned a fruit and vegetable shop on the Glen Road, was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver as he tried to stop a gang of youths stealing his delivery van in September 2007.
The attack, which happened outside his home at Norfolk Drive in September 2007, caused widespread revulsion.
Two other teenagers, Patrick James Stephen Crossan (18) from Willowbank Gardens and a 17-year-old girl who cannot be named because of her age, are |expected to appear in court this morning charged in connection with the brutal killing. Neither was produced in court yesterday.
Mr Murphy QC said that in light of McKee's guilty pleas, in their cases “there are matters which I wish to consider with those who instruct me”.
In the months since his death Mr Holland’s heartbroken family have staged a series of rallies and vigils in Belfast city centre and at the scene of the killing.
His grieving widow Pauline was in the public gallery supported by her four daughters Sarah, Meabh, Grainne and Gail, and maintained a dignified |silence throughout.
The victim’s heartbroken sisters, including west Belfast Sinn Fein councillor Geraldine McAteer, were also in the packed courtroom and wept as they left.
Across the gallery relatives of the defendant, including McKee’s father, listened intently to proceedings.
They left ahead of the Holland family as McKee was led from the dock by prison officers.