A man accused of the murder of an east Belfast grandmother almost two years ago is to stand trial on June 8.
William Stephen Hutchinson (44), formerly of Kilroney House in Belfast’s Cregagh estate, denies killing Alice Morrow (53), who was found dead in the bedroom of her Whincroft Way flat on March 10, 2019.
The case would have been heard before a jury at Downpatrick Crown Court but, because of the Covid pandemic, it will take place at Belfast Crown Court.
During a review of the case by remote link on Friday, defence counsel Niall Hunt QC said a consultant neuropsychologist had agreed to take instructions in the matter.
He told Mr Justice O’Hara that for the expert to compile her report, she needed to be present with the defendant to carry out tests on his “cognition and memory”.
Mr Hunt said that when the defence wrote to prison authorities at the end of last year, “we were told that they were not accepting any outside visits”.
“We wrote to them again at the start of February and received a reply which said that access to the prison was severely restricted and limited to emergencies only,” he added.
The defence QC said the consultant neuropsychologist was prepared to carry out her tests “on a socially distanced basis but still requires to be present when the tests are carried out, so we are no further on with the expert report”.
Asked by Mr Justice O’Hara if the issue in the case was over the defendant’s “mental capacity”, Mr Hunt replied: “No. The defendant is denying that he had any part in any assaults or anything of that nature leading up to the death of the deceased.’’
Mr Justice O’Hara then asked: “Why do we need an expert’s report about memory if (the defendant) says it wasn’t (him)?’’
The senior defence counsel responded that he needed the report so he be could be sure that what the defendant was saying was a “reliable explanation’’.
Prosecution counsel Laura Ivers said that while she appreciated “these are very difficult times’’, the Crown was ready to proceed and asked the court to set a date for trial.
Fixing the trial date, Mr Justice O’Hara said he would review the case in early May.
No details were given concerning the murder of Mrs Morrow, a mother and grandmother-of-three.
It is known
Detectives said at the time their main line of inquiry was a “domestic motivation’’.