A partially-blind pensioner was stabbed and strangled in his own home by a teenager who stole £80 to help pay his rent, a court has heard.
The violent and brutal circumstances of 78-year-old Francis O’Neill’s death were revealed as the youth went on trial yesterday accused of his murder.
The accused, who was 16 at the time, denies killing the pensioner. Now 17, his age means the media cannot publish his identity.
Mr O’Neill was found dead at his ground floor flat in Omagh on April 11 last year.
The opening day of the trial heard claims that the youth sat on the deceased's sofa watching TV after the killing and later went out drinking with friends before returning to the scene where he “ran amok”, ransacking the place.
Dungannon Crown Court also heard the youth admitted taking the pensioner’s wallet and had used £80 from it to pay rent to his flatmate.
The court was told that the accused claimed in a “fantastical tale” that he arrived after Mr O’Neill had died.
The court heard that Mr O’Neill, who lived alone in the secluded Brook Valley cul-de-sac, was last seen alive shortly before 5pm on Good Friday, April 10.
The following day two paramedics who were called to the house found Mr O’Neill’s body in a chair in his living room.
His home had been wrecked. Several windows were smashed, a door was damaged, while items lay strewn across the floor, the court heard.
The accused was among several people present at the scene, and was said to be in an agitated state. He was incoherent and rambling, and there was a strong smell of alcohol from him.
Police witnesses later told the court he had to be restrained and arrested for disorderly behaviour.
A post-mortem examination determined Mr O’Neill had died from strangulation. He had been stabbed in the neck, but this played no part in his death.
Outlining the prosecution case, Liam McCollum QC said Mr O’Neill had injuries consistent with an arm or hand being applied to his neck. His throat was compressed so that he couldn’t breathe, the lawyer said.
On the afternoon of April 10, he said the youth had been asked by a friend for rent money, which he later paid using notes allegedly taken from Mr O’Neill’s wallet.
The accused told his friend the money had come from his father.
During police interviews the youth initially denied taking Mr O’Neill’s wallet, which had been found in his flat, and only admitted the theft when confronted with the evidence.
Mr McCollum told the jury of seven men and four women they would come to the “inevitable conclusion” that the youth had gone to the house and murdered Mr O’Neill.
He said the prosecution’s evidence, while circumstantial, was based on three key themes — forensic evidence, the youth’s behaviour at the time, and what he had told detectives. There was “considerable forensic evidence” linking the accused to the scene, including blood and a fingerprint on a back window.
Mr McCollum said the youth’s behaviour after finding Mr O’Neill dead was “exceedingly peculiar”.
He sat and watched television, failed to tell anyone of the death and had not even phoned the emergency services anonymously.
Instead, the prosecuting lawyer said, the youth had spent the rest of the evening drinking. After paying his friend the rent money, the youth returned to Mr O’Neill’s home and ransacked it.
Mr McCollum said the accused had told “a number of lies” which pointed to his guilt. “What he would have you believe is that he stumbled upon the deceased,” he said.
It was, Mr McCollum said, an implausible story which defied common sense. “It is just a fantastical tale which doesn’t stand up to any forensic or logical analysis.”
The case continues.