Murder accused was beaten by man later shot dead, court told
A witness at a murder trial yesterday told how Francis 'Studs' Lanigan was being punched and assaulted by John Stephen Knocker minutes before he was shot dead.
Lanigan (53), formerly of Knockmore Square in Lisburn, Co Antrim, denies murdering Mr Knocker at the former Glengannon Hotel outside Dungannon in May 1998.
He also denies a second charge of possessing a 9mm Browning pistol and ammunition with intent to endanger life.
In the wake of the murder, the court heard Lanigan fled to Dublin, where he lived under the assumed name of Ciaran McCrory before he was tracked down by gardai in a covert operation at the Carlisle Gym complex in Terenure, south Dublin, where he was working as a barber.
The trial has already heard that Lanigan's DNA was found on the rim of a discarded coffee cup seized during the undercover operation.
From the witness box at Belfast Crown Court yesterday, Noel O'Neill told a senior prosecution QC that on Saturday, May 30, 1998, he had gone to the hotel for a drink, but when he arrived at the complex he was asked by staff to work as a door security man because they were short-staffed.
He told trial judge Mr Justice Horner that he was working at a security gate at the complex with two other men and his job was to let people in and out of the premises.
Mr O'Neill told the trial: "There was a fight outside our gate and we closed the security gate then."
Asked by the prosecution who was involved in the fight, which took place around 12 feet from the security gate, the witness replied: "A fella called Studs and a fella called Knockers."
The bouncer said that the "bigger one, Studs" was being punched by Mr Knocker and that Lanigan "had his hands up over his face and Knockers was hitting him. There was no real fighting back from the bigger one. Knockers was the one hitting him".
Mr O'Neill recalled that Lanigan was pushed across to the corner of the building near to a turnstile and tried to get back into the building through the security gates with a number of other people.
"They were trying to get back in, but the gates were closed," he said.
"We couldn't let people back in once the gates were closed.
He told the hearing that a crowd had gathered outside in the carpark, numbering up to 60 people, and that some of them were attempting "to stop the fight".
The witness said he remembered that Lanigan "had a mark above his eye and he was bleeding. It appeared he wasn't happy. He was angry".
Asked what happened next, Mr O'Neill stated: "Knockers started to walk down the carpark to a car, a white Renault 21, I think.
"He then started to run down to the end of the carpark.
"The other man, Studs, he was jogging down the carpark after him."
He said that after that he lost sight of the two men because they went behind a number of parked buses.
Mr O'Neill added: "We heard a number of loud shots, two or three shots.
"Then there was quiet for a couple of seconds and then another couple of shots.
"We wanted people in the carpark to get back into the hotel.
"After getting them inside, we went down with our torches to the road where the shooting took place.
"There was a person lying on the road.
"It was Knockers lying on the road."
Asked by the trial judge if he knew of Mr Knocker, the witness replied: "I had seen him around the hotel.''
Mr O'Neill said he believed the deceased was wearing denim jeans and possibility a "red shirt or top''.
Asked by the prosecution if he could recall what Lanigan had been wearing that night in question, Mr O'Neill told the court: "I can't remember what Studs was wearing. It's that long ago.''
Under cross-examination by defence counsel Patrick Lyttle QC, the witness confirmed that it was not a fight because the only person throwing punches was Mr Knocker.
"Would you say (Lanigan) was getting badly beaten?" asked the defence QC.
Mr O'Neill commented: "Yes, he was the one getting the beating."
Mr Lyttle asked: "He (Lanigan) was not reacting, was he?
"He had his forearms over his face to protect himself, didn't he?"
The witnessed answered: "Correct.
"I didn't see him throw any punches."