Belfast Telegraph

Hung jury in trial of man accused of one-punch killing of Traveller James McDonagh

By Michael Donnelly

There was uproar in a Coleraine court yesterday after a jury in the case of a man accused of the unlawful killing of a member of the Travelling community failed to reach a verdict.

A female member of the family of deceased James McDonagh began screaming that he had been murdered, and despite attempts by other family members to console and quieten her she continued her protests as they ushered her from the court.

Later a man was handcuffed and put into the back of one of three police cars which sped to the courthouse.

He was, however, released a short time later after initial questioning.

Trouble flared as defence QC Elis McDermott secured continuing bail for Finbar McCoy Jr (28) while a decision is made on whether or not he is to face a retrial in the new year for the manslaughter of Mr McDonagh.

Prosecution QC Ciaran Murphy had just told trial judge Mrs Justice Keegan that the matter be referred back to the PPS and that within the week he "will indicate the position in respect of a retrial".

Earlier during the hearing of Londonderry Crown Court, sitting at Coleraine Courthouse, the jury, following more than five hours of deliberation over two days, reported that not only were they hung on reaching a unanimous verdict, there was no prospect of even a majority of at least 10 of them agreeing on his guilt or innocence.

After the jury foreman told Mrs Justice Keegan that they were "hopelessly divided", she said she had no other option but to thank them for their deliberations and discharge them.

McCoy Jr, from Tamlaghduff Road, Bellaghy, Co Derry, denies the manslaughter of 28-year-old Mr McDonagh, who died in hospital from head injuries.

The deceased, from Castledawson, Co Derry, died in hospital from the injuries he sustained outside the Elk Bar, Toomebridge, in the early hours of January 10 last year.

McCoy Jr admitted throwing the single punch that floored Mr McDonagh, but maintained he was innocent of his unlawful killing.

His week-long trial heard that he'd been in the Elk Bar with his family celebrating his father's retirement.

Events before the end of "the fateful evening" were described as fine, and that the "craic was good".

Mr McDonagh and his nephew John, who were known to staff as just ordinary punters, were in the bar drinking.

However, as the evening came to a close around 2am there was a confrontation between some parties in the car park.

McCoy Jr, who'd left earlier, had to be restrained after getting a friend to drive him back to the car park.

There he found that his parents had been injured.

In the background was Mr McDonagh, stripped to the waist "shouting and roaring... laughing, egging people on".

McCoy Jr said he "panicked" and was "fearful for his family", and managed to break free from those holding him.

Although he said that in his "rage" he ran over and punched Mr McDonagh, he also claimed he threw the punch as a "scare tactic" and that immediately afterwards he punched "a fence in his temper".

Although Mr McCoy Sr and others put an unconscious Mr McDonagh in the recovery position, and despite advice from those present that he should be taken to hospital, he was driven to his mother's home.

She said her son was lying on the sofa, making a snoring noise, but she could not awaken him up.

Some hours later her daughter called for an ambulance, and paramedic staff found Mr McDonagh to be "totally unresponsive".

A post-mortem later revealed that Mr McDonagh died from bleeding and swelling of the brain after a punch caused him to fall backwards and his head hit off the pavement.

His skull was fractured, resulting in the injuries to his brain and his subsequent death.

Belfast Telegraph

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