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Lurgan man jailed for murder of his fiancée sacked lawyers in attempts to ‘drag the criminal process into chaos’, Court of Appeal rules


David Lyness

David Lyness

David Lyness

A man jailed for the cut-throat murder of his fiancée sacked his lawyers as part of attempts to “drag the criminal process into chaos”, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Senior judges dismissed David Lyness’ bid to overturn his conviction for killing Anita Downey in Lurgan, Co Armagh five years ago after declaring that he repeatedly tried to frustrate and derail proceedings.

Lord Justice Treacy described the prosecution case against the 56-year-old as “compelling”.

“He has sought to drag the criminal process into chaos by engineering or inventing conflict with his lawyers and then dismissing them,” the judge said.

Lyness is serving a minimum of 18 years behind bars after being unanimously convicted of murdering Ms Downey on January 20, 2017.

The 51-year-old mother of three bled to death on the floor of his Toberhewney Hall home from a wound to the left side of her neck.

Lyness claimed she came at him with a knife during a drink-fuelled argument, and that he tried to disarm her in a frantic struggle.

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When he noticed blood coming from her, according to his version of events, he tried to take his own life by cutting his throat and lying down beside her.

But the defendant's son, Shane Lyness, testified that he witnessed his father straddling Ms Downey and attacking her neck with a kitchen knife.

An assistant state pathologist for Northern Ireland also rejected any suggestion that the fatal wounds could have been inflicted accidentally.

Lyness was called to give evidence at trial, but soon accused his own barrister of asking him to perjure himself and refusing to answer any more questions put to him.

He sacked a number of lawyers during the case and represented himself at the Court of Appeal.

During the hearing he claimed that his son’s evidence “doesn't stack up” and raised issues about being denied the opportunity to address the jury after sacking his defence team.

But giving reasons for dismissing the appeal, Lord Justice Treacy rejected all grounds of challenge.

“The appellant has never offered any cogent explanation of how Mrs Downey sustained a 15cm long knife wound to her neck, consistent with at least two separate movements of the knife, which severed her jugular vein and which was inflicted with such force that it penetrated and left a notch in her spine,” he said.

Lyness’ behaviour at trial was branded as “disgraceful”.

“He appears to be seeking to make himself unrepresentable by constantly changing instructions and making allegations against his lawyers,” the judge added.

“He then uses this status as an attempt to frustrate the trial process.”

Lord Justice Treacy confirmed: “We find this reasoning of the prosecution compelling and conclude that while the process by which the appellant was denied the right to make a closing speech was less than ideal it did not, in the particular circumstances of this case, render the trial unfair, nor did it imperil the safety of the conviction.”

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