Belfast Telegraph

Man who stabbed friend to death facing life in jail

By Michael Donnelly

A man who cannot remember stabbing his best friend to death faces the prospect of a life sentence for the unlawful killing.

Londonderry Crown Court heard that Leon Robert Paul Johnston was suffering from an abnormality of the mind when he stabbed his best friend Michael McLaughlin (24) four times in his Hillhead Road flat near Casteldawson on August 8, 2010.

Judge Mr Justice McLaughlin, who adjourned the case until September given the “highly technical” nature in fixing the appropriate sentence, was also told a guilty plea to manslaughter by Johnston (26) from Ballydugenna Villas in Toomebridge was acceptable by prosecutors.

Prosecution QC David Hunter told the court, sitting in Belfast, that both defence and prosecution psychiatrists agreed that Johnston suffered from a recognised mental condition, which substantially impaired his ability to exercise any control over his actions following four days of “drinking to apparent oblivion”.

On the night in question Mr McLaughlin returned home with his girlfriend, Johnston's sister, and a group of friends.

In the flat they found Johnston sleeping in the front room.

The lawyer said at times Johnston would awaken, but those present could get no sense from him. Mr Hunter said at one stage he and Mr McLaughlin had “an altercation”, which was soon settled after a few punches.

However, following a later dispute, Johnston went to the kitchen and returned to the living room with a knife to confront his friend.

“There was squealing, shouting and screaming,” said Mr Hunter, before Mr McLaughlin, “a wholly innocent and blameless party”, staggered to the back door, where he collasped.

Mr Hunter said police found Johnston staggering on the road.

When stopped he told officers: “It was me... I did it ... Arrest me”, although later, when sober enough to be interviewed, he said he “had no memory of what happened”.

Defence QC James Gallagher said that by the time August 2010 came, Johnston's drinking and drug abuse “had really reached crisis point”, and on the day of the stabbing he was “pathetically drunk”.

Mr Gallagher said Johnston had “expressed profound remorse for the death of his best friend... and he has asked through me, to publicly apologise to Mr McLaughlin's family for his actions”.

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