Killer's sentence hearing told victim suffered more than 40 injuries to body
A Co Antrim man died as a result of "gratuitous and extensive violence" in a drunken fight during which he sustained over 40 injuries, a court has heard.
Christopher Keenan is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of Anthony McErlane.
The 36-year-old, of Broombeg View in Ballycastle, pleaded guilty in March this year to killing Mr McErlane.
During a tariff hearing yesterday in Belfast the prosecution argued that his starting point for sentence without parole should be of 15-16 years, given the level of violence the labourer had sustained.
Prosecution counsel Jackie Orr told Mr Justice Colton that on January 28, 2016, the 48-year-old victim had been drinking with Christopher Keenan and John Keenan at the latter's flat in Broombeg View.
She said Mr McErlane was seen "jumping out of a window of the flat'' and went to his sister's nearby home where she administered first aid to a head wound he had sustained during an argument with the Keenans. All three had been drinking heavily.
The court was told Mr McErlane later left his sister's home and returned to the flat.
Mr McErlane's sister told police that John Keenan came to her flat around 8pm.
"He didn't seem himself and he was as white as a ghost,'' she told detectives.
When she asked him about her brother, John Keenan said that he had been in a fight with Christopher Keenan and he was "lying in a pool of blood'' in his flat.
The remains of the father-of-two were removed following an extensive examination of the crime scene.
A post-mortem revealed that he had sustained 24 separate injuries to the head and neck, and a further 20 injuries to his arms and trunk, although some of these may not have been associated with the assault.
The pathologist said the injuries were caused by "kicks and punches'', and striking an "abrasive surface''.
The dead man also had a broken nose, a broken bone in his neck and injuries to his throat and lower lip caused by being hit with a ceramic pot.
Although the pathologist could not give an exact cause of death, he believed it was probably due to the injuries to his head and neck "associated with his alcohol intoxication''.
At the time of his death Mr McErlane's blood alcohol reading was 323 microgrammes in 100 millilitres of blood - almost four times the drink-drive limit.
Ms Orr told the court that Christopher Keenan was arrested by police and on his way to custody for questioning, he asked officers: "How long do you get for murder these days?''
At interview he said that an argument broke out which developed into a fight, saying that he and his uncle were hitting Mr McErlane.
The defendant admitted punching the victim with his right fist and kicking him on the ground with his right foot to the head, the court heard.
He added that he realised at this point that he had "gone too far''.
Ms Orr said Mr McErlane had been subjected to "gratuitous and extensive violence''.
She added that among the aggravating factors which pushed the tariff sentence from a normal starting of 12 years without parole to 15-16 years, was that Mr McErlane was "vulnerable'', and that he had been kicked repeatedly while lying prone on the ground.
She told the judge that Keenan's lengthy record of 101 convictions was another aggravating factor, with convictions for violent assault, robbery, and assaults on police.
The prosecutor said victim impact reports stated that Mr McErlane was a "much loved and much missed father and grandfather'' and the loss to his family "was considerable as they have tried to come to terms with the way in which he died''.
Defence counsel John McCrudden QC said that his instructions from Christopher Keenan were that he "regrets and completely apologises for what he did''.
"He knows that apology may not be well received, but it is an expression of his remorse which he has demonstrated from the beginning of this case,'' Mr McCrudden added.
Mr McCrudden argued that the defendant should be given considerable credit for his plea of guilty, given that he had made admissions during police interviews.
Mr Justice Colton said he wanted some time to consider all the papers and reports submitted to the court and said he would give his ruling on the tariff sentence Christopher Keenan will serve in custody without parole next Friday.