Belfast Telegraph

‘A clinical, cynical act of murder’... judge jails man for 18 years as victim’s bereft children say they’d have preferred death penalty

By Ashleigh McDonald

A man who cut his partner's throat in a "clear, clinical, cynical act of murder" has been told that he will serve a minimum of 18 years in prison before being considered for release.

David Lyness - who a court heard has a fascination with knives - killed Anita Downey in the early hours of January 20 last year.

The popular 51-year-old mother-of-three bled to death on the floor of Lyness' Toberhewny Hall home in Lurgan from a wound to the left side of her neck which extended back to her spine and severed her jugular vein.

Speaking after yesterday's sentencing, Mrs Downey's ex-husband Stephen branded Lyness a "very very bad man", and said that while he was glad that Lyness was behind bars, the family would have preferred the death penalty.

Lyness (52) showed no emotion as Judge Geoffrey Miller QC spoke of the impact the "chilling" murder has had on Mrs Downey's family.

The court heard Mrs Downey described as the "lynchpin" of her family, with her father Thomas Doran speaking of "a huge void that will never be filled" by the death of his "wonderful" daughter.

Lyness, who has an extensive criminal record for offences including wounding and possessing knives, denied murdering his partner. He instead claimed that during an argument after drink had been taken, Mrs Downey came at him with a knife she lifted from his kitchen. He told police that during a "frantic struggle" when he tried to disarm her, they both ended up on the floor where he noticed blood coming from her.

It was also Lyness' case that when he realised Ms Downey was dead, he tried to take his own life by cutting his own throat, then lay beside her cuddling her and waiting for the emergency services to arrive.

This version of events was rejected by the jury, who relied on other evidence they heard during the three-week trial - including an eye-witness account from Lyness' son, who was 21 at the time.

After observing the couple arguing in the living room, Shane Lyness saw his father straddling Mrs Downey and "sawing" at her neck with a kitchen knife.

He also told the jury that whilst Lyness was cutting her neck, Mrs Downey turned to him and asked for help, and he couldn't understand why she was so calm, and not crying out, whilst she was being stabbed. Lyness' version of the fatal wound being caused accidentally was also rejected by the assistant state pathologist for Northern Ireland, who concluded that "you couldn't get a wound like that simply as the result of an accident". Rather, Dr Christopher Johnson said the only way a wound such as Ms Downey's could have been caused was by "somebody taking a knife and cutting her throat with it".

Lyness was called to give evidence during the trial, and while he answered a handful of questions put to him by his own legal representative, he accused his own barrister of asking him to perjure himself.

Lyness then refused to answer any further questions put to him by his own barrister - and later withdrew the instructions of his legal team.

This behaviour was criticised by Judge Miller, who noted Lyness' history of dismissing legal teams, which delayed court proceedings and which in turn affected the Downey family.

Branding Mrs Downey's death as a "clear, clinical, cynical act of murder", Judge Miller said Lyness had beaten his parter in the living room and brought her to the ground. There, he straddled her and continued the assault, before going into the kitchen and arming himself with a knife that he had purchased for £6.99 in TK Maxx. On his way back to the now prone Mrs Downey, Lyness threatened Shane with the knife before once again straddling her then cutting her throat.

Citing this as a "clear act of deliberate murder", Judge Miller said: "I cannot over-emphasis the brutality of this act."

Saying Lyness made a "deliberate decision" to arm himself, Judge Miller told the court: "This was not the loss of temper rising out of a quarrel between two people who knew each other."

The judge added that in the aftermath of the attack, Lyness failed to obtain any medical attention for Mrs Downey.

Judge Miller also noted the murder was committed in front of his own son, who then had to give evidence against his father in court.

This, Judge Miller said, displayed "the callous disregard" Lyness has "for the feelings of anyone other than himself".

Regarding Mrs Downey, the judge said that after reading victim impact statements and being shown family photographs, "a sense of the real Anita Downey emerges" - which he said was a "stark contrast" to the picture painted by Lyness.

In his statement, Mrs Downey's father Thomas Doran said: "I have been asked to explain how this has affected me, but I will never be able to articulate the pain and loss I feel every day. Anita was happy go lucky, she enjoyed life and had a great sense of fun.

"She was a warm and generous person, and I couldn't have wished for a better daughter.

"She was a wonderful mum to her three children and her loss has left a huge void that will never be filled."

Judge Miller also spoke of an apparent fascination Lyness has with knives, revealing to the court that Lyness used to carry a meat cleaver in his jacket pocket and sleep with a machete in his bed.

Also noted was Lyness' criminal record that includes previous attacks on women which the police and crown say were in a domestic setting - a claim also denied by Lyness.

After taking less than two hours to deliberate at the end of the trial in June, the jury returned a unanimously guilty verdict on Lyness, who was then handed a life sentence.

Addressing Lyness yesterday, Judge Miller told him there were no mitigating features in the case.

Telling Lyness that he will serve a minimum of 18 years of the life sentence in prison before he is considered eligible for release by the Paroles Commission, the judge then told prison staff "the defendant may be taken down."

As he was being led from the dock in handcuffs, and as he walked passed his victim's family in the public gallery, Lyness showed no emotion.

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph