Belfast Telegraph

Man admits causing death of James McDonagh in so-called one punch attack

By Michael Donnelly

A man was jailed on Tuesday after pleading guilty to causing the "tragic death" of a 28-year-old man from the 'Travelling community' in a so-called one-punch attack a year ago.

The plea by 26-year-old Finbar McCoy jr came a day after he was due to have gone on trial for a second time before Londonderry Crown Court, for the manslaughter of Mr James McDonagh.

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

McCoy jr from Tamlaghduff Road, Bellaghy, Co Derry, had always admitted throwing the single punch which floored Mr McDonagh, but until today maintained he was innocent of causing his unlawful death.

This morning defence QC Elis McDermott asked trial judge Mrs Justice Keegan for her client to be "re-arraigned" on the single count.  Following his guilty plea, Ms McDermott said while McCoy had been on bail until now, he wished to end it and to go into custody.

The defence lawyer told the court, sitting in Belfast, that in addition to the usual pre-sentence and other reports, a set of agreed facts on which McCoy's plea was based would also be lodged with the court.

Prosecution QC Ciaran Murphy said that he would also be lodging a number of victim impact reports from the family of Mr McDonagh, including his mother and sisters who were in court for McCoy's guilty plea.

McCoy's plea and sentence was adjourned until next month for preparation of those various reports.

Last month at the end of a week-long trial a jury of six men, and six women, following over five hours deliberation over two days, reported they were "hopelessly divided" and could not agree on a verdict.

They had heard that McCoy jr was in the Elk bar with his family celebrating his father's retirement.  Events before the end of "the fateful evening" were fine and that the "craic was good".

Mr McDonagh, and his nephew John, who were known to staff as just ordinary punters, were also in the bar, drinking.  However, as the evening came to a close around 2am, there was a confrontation between some parties in the carpark.

At one stage Mr McDonagh was stripped to the waist, "shouting and roaring  ... laughing, egging" people on.

McCoy jr, returned to the carpark and found his parents were injured, and had to be restrained.  However, he managed to break free and in a "rage" ran over and punched Mr McDonagh.

McCoy jr, later said he "panicked" and "fearful for his family", threw the punch as a "scare tactic" and that immediately afterwards he punched "a fence in his temper".

Although Mr McCoy sn 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.  Some hours later her daughter called for an ambulance, and 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 hit his head off the pavement, fracturing his skull, resulting in the injuries to his brain and death.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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