A "controlling" husband who was “tired of his wife”, but unwilling to accept the possibility of her divorcing him, put her off the end of a Lough Erne cruiser hired to celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary, a murder trial heard today.
In his opening at the start of the Dungannon Crown Court trial of Stephen McKinney, prosecuting QC Richard Weir accused the 43-year-old father-of-two of murdering his 35-year-old wife Lu Na nearly three years ago.
Mr Weir told the jury of seven men and five women that when they had heard all of the evidence they would find “this was no tragic accident and you will be sure Stephen McKinney killed his wife”.
Trial judge Madam Justice McBride also heard that Mrs McKinney had also been “incapacitated” after taking the sleeping drug Zopiclone, obtained online by her husband Stephen, who “caused her to enter the water”.
Her body was recovered for Fermanagh’s Lower Lough Erne near Devenish Island, within 40 minutes of her husband raising the alarm in the early hours of April 13, 2017.
The weather that night was described as good, with very little wind, and with a full moon providing good visibility.
Mr Weir said while McKinney denied having anything to do with the death of his wife, when police arrived on the scene, during the four minutes it took them to dock, McKinney did nothing to recover his wife, a non-swimmer, from the lough.
The prosecutor further claimed in the wake of his wife’s tragic death McKinney gave conflicting accounts to police, authorities, family and friends as to how she came to be in the lough, after she had allegedly went to secure the mooring ropes on their cruiser.
Mr Weir further revealed months before her tragic death Mrs McKinney had talked of divorcing her husband, and of taking their children back to China, something he would not have wanted.
McKinney, originally from Strabane, but who lived with his wife and children in Flaxfields, Convoy, Co Donegal, now has an address in Castlerown Square, Fintona, Co Tyrone.
However, in his opening address Mr Weir admitted that the case against McKinney was a circumstantial one, but one where the strands of evidence were sufficient, when taken together, to support their case.
The lawyer said the Manor House Marine cruiser was the second the family had hired from the Killadeas marina in Fermanagh that April, for which they were given comprehensive instructions and safety demonstrations on its operation.
Although advised to go to the east jetty at Devenish Island, he went to the west.
The court later heard of details of the two emergency 999 calls made by McKinney shortly after 1am the following morning, claiming his wife had “just ended up in the water”.
Initially, in the first call which was cut short, he is recorded saying his wife had fallen into the water after she’d complained the boat was moving, that they both got out to adjust the mooring ropes, and she slipped and he jumped into the water to try and help her.
When asked how she fell into the water, Mr McKinney was recorded repeating that they both got off the 29ft cruiser, but then: “I just don’t know, she just ended up in the water.”
Later he told a second operator: “I was in the water looking for her, trying to, I was trying to keep her, I was trying to keep her up. I got hold of her, but she went down and I tried to pull her back up.
“I tried to pull her back up and she went down,” then added: “And she pulled me down”.
Mr Weir said McKinney was told to remain on the cruiser, get something warm to wear, and to put on the boat lights and await the arrival of the police.
The lawyer said when he spotted the lights of the approaching police launch, McKinney was heard saying: “Oh Lu Na, oh Lu Na. I do see her... look at her... I see my wife... I think I see her”.
The court heard it had taken police approximately 40 minutes from their Enniskillen base to reach the McKinney cruiser tied up on the west jetty at Devenish Island.
However, Mr Weir claimed that while McKinney said he could see his wife in the water, “on his own account he does nothing to pull her out of the water”.
The lawyer said the lough had no current at this side of the island, and that, given the calm conditions, Mrs McKinney’s body would not have floated away and back again, and in the time which had elapsed, her body could not have sunk and resurfaced.
Mrs McKinney’s body, the jury heard, was pulled from the lough by a police officer using a boat hook.
Counsel further claimed during the journey to the hospital and afterwards, McKinney told a police officer that his wife had complained the mooring ropes were loose, and she wanted to check them.
Outside the hospital treatment room, McKinney had talked of trying his “best to save her... she can’t swim”, that he heard “a splash and I heard ‘help’ and I jumped in... I had hold of her, trying to pull her up.
“I had a hold of her... at the boat... and she kept pulling me down... I tried my best but I’m not a good swimmer”.
Later when told his wife was dead, McKinney allegedly revealed they had argued over the mooring ropes, and when they went out onto the jetty to check them, “I heard her shout, I went to help”.
Mr Weir claimed McKinney told some of his wife’s friends that she “had slipped and fell into the water”, that he heard a splash and went outside, while another friend allegedly heard him say he saw Lu Na trip and fall into the water.
And despite the reportedly good weather conditions that night, McKinney claimed it was “rocky on the boat... and that Lu Na was scared”.
The court heard that McKinney told one friend how his wife went outside and as he went to get his trousers to follow her, he heard splashes, but he told another friend he didn’t see how she ended up in the lough.
The jury also heard of the effect that the drug Zopiclone, used to treat insomnia, would have had on Mrs McKinney.
Her husband said he’d obtained it for her online and she’d taken some that evening.
The amount of the drug found in her system was more than the normal therapeutic dose and the effect on her was likely to have been substantial. Although it was not possible to say if she would have been fully awake at the time, her ability to respond adequately to the dangers she found herself in, “would have been impaired”.
In conclusion, Mr Weir told the “members of the jury Lu Na McKinney was incapacitated having consumed the Zopiclone.
“We say that Stephen McKinney caused her to enter the water at Devenish Island. We say he is a controlling man, tired of his wife, not prepared to accept her divorcing him and all the consequences that would entail for him and their children.
“And we say when you have heard all of the evidence, this was no tragic accident, and you will be sure Stephen McKinney killed his wife,” declared Mr Weir.
The trial, expected to hear evidence from up to 100 witnesses during the eight weeks it is likely to last, continues tomorrow.