Three Londonderry men who hacked a fellow Traveller to death have been told they will serve at least 58 years in jail between them before even being considered for release on licence.
Imposing the minimum life tariff's on 38-year-old Christopher Stokes, Edward Stokes (34) and 17-year-old Martin Stokes, Belfast Crown Court judge Justice Treacy told them that by brutally murdering John Mongan they had robbed a wife of a husband and three children of a father.
“For whatever reason you took the law into your own hands that night setting out to slay John Mongan. In this you succeeded... but you were caught and now you will pay a heavy price for what you have done,” said the judge.
All three have been jailed for life but Christopher Stokes, from Glengaliagh in Derry, was ordered to serve at least 20 years, his brother Edward from the Cornfields area was jailed for at least 22 years, and Martin Stokes, from the Old Fort, was jailed for a minimum of 16 years.
The public gallery of court 12 in the Laganside complex was filled with representatives of the Stokes and Mongan families with around a dozen riot police separating them. As the three killers were led to the cells, both families clapped and cheered.
Speaking outside the court Mrs Julia Mongan, who was herself hit by a sword brandished by Edward Stokes, said John's family had been through a “terrible ordeal” since his death.
“He was a valued member of this family, a loving father, son and brother,” said Mrs Mongan.
“We will always remember him, but for now we will try to rebuild our lives.”
She told awaiting media the three Stokes “did what they did and they got punished for it... they got what they deserved”, and said of the life sentences that she was “pleased enough”. At the end of their eight-week trial all three were convicted of murdering the father-of-three in his Fallswater Street home in west Belfast in the early hours of February 7 2008, Martin Stokes' 15th birthday.
During the trial the jury heard how the murderous Stokes smashed their way into the house and stomping up the stairs where Christopher Stokes used his axe to break down the bedroom door where the married couple were.
Mrs Mongan, who was heavily pregnant and due to give birth the next day, told the court how she pleaded with them not to attack her husband but that her pleas fell on deaf ears as Christopher Stokes felled him with a blow from the axe.
She described how the other two waded in, also carrying bladed weapons, and began to “butcher my husband,” grinning all the time before leaving him for dead, with Edward Stokes hitting the pregnant woman on the head with a sword on his way out.
When all three were outside they smashed up Mr Mongan's Mitsbushi Shogun car before speeding off in an Isuzu Trooper 4x4, later found burnt-out near Kesh in Co Fermanagh.
Assistant State Pathologist for Northern Ireland Dr Peter Ingram told the jury how he found between 30 and 40 wounds on Mr Mongan, commenting that every injury would have caused “torrential bleeding”.
Dr Ingram said that even after Mr Mongan was dead the three still landed blows on his legs and body with weapons such as an axe, a sword or machete.
Mrs Mongan told officers at the scene that she had recognised his killers as they were her cousins.
The three were arrested within hours of the brutal killing by police.