Belfast Telegraph

Trial looms for the man accused of murdering ex-lover's teen sister

By George Jackson

A jury has been sworn in at Londonderry Crown Court for the trial of a man accused of murder and attempted murder.

Phelim McNally (27), from Toombridge, denies murdering his ex-partner's sister and attempting to murder his ex-partner in a double shooting incident in Bellaghy on May 19 of last year.

The defendant has pleaded not guilty to murdering 18-year-old Lauren O'Neill and attempting to murder Brenda O'Neill (22), the mother of his two children, in Brenda's home at William Court in Bellaghy.

Before a packed courtroom, the defendant, who stood in the dock between two prison officers, replied "yes" when he was asked by the court clerk if he was ready for his trial.

The jury of six men and six women were then empanelled to hear the evidence in the murder trial.

They were told by Mr Justice Seamus Treacy that the trial would start in Coleraine on Monday and was expected to last two weeks.

A prosecution barrister gave the jury what he described as a brief background to the case.

He said at the time of the incident Brenda O'Neill was the defendant's former partner and Lauren was her younger sister.

The barrister said that the prosecution witnesses in the case came from the south Derry and south-west Antrim areas.

He said the "three principal witnesses in the case are Brenda O'Neill and her parents Laurence and Bernadette O'Neill, all of whom are in court today".

The barrister said three members of the defendant's family, who were in court too, would also be giving evidence, as well as police officers, forensic officers, other civilians and a paramedic.

The prosecution witnesses were then asked to stand before the jury to ensure none of the jurors knew any of them, and the case was then adjourned until next Monday.

Meanwhile, the defendant was remanded in continuing custody.

The O'Neill family is well-known and respected in the Toome area.

Among the mourners at Lauren's funeral in May were Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Mid Ulster Sinn Fein MLA Francie Brolly, SDLP Assembly Member Patsy McGlone and Magherafelt council chairman Ian Milne.

Her sister was too badly injured to attend but has since recovered.

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