Belfast Telegraph

Relief of Anita Downey’s family as brutal knife murderer found guilty

By Brett Campbell

The son of a woman whose throat was slit by her fiance expressed relief after her killer was found guilty at Belfast Crown Court yesterday.

Around a dozen friends and relatives of murdered Anita Downey (51) sat in the public gallery to hear the unanimous "guilty" verdict read out.

It took 12 jurors just over an hour to reach the decision.

Loved ones gasped and shrieked as David Lyness (52) was told by Judge Geoffrey Miller QC that only a life sentence could be imposed on him for stabbing Ms Downey in his Lurgan home on January 20, 2017.

Outside the courtroom, as relieved relatives of Ms Downey hugged each other, her son Jamie said he was satisfied that the jury reached the correct decision.

"I am really happy with it. At the end of the day it was the right decision," he said.

Anita's ex-husband Stephen Downey expressed relief that the "extremely emotional" trial is over.

"It was a phenomenal result for all of us," he added.

The entire family declared that "justice has been served" and hailed the "fantastic" verdict before leaving the court.

The mother-of-three bled to death as a result of a wound inflicted on the left side of her neck which extended to her spine and severed her jugular vein.

Lyness' composure in the dock stood in stark contrast to those in the public gallery, where not one single person was present to support him.

During the trial Lyness maintained that Ms Downey was holding the knife that accidentally caused the fatal wound after she came at him in the middle of a drunken row in his Toberhewry Hall home.

Since his arrest, he had always maintained a "frantic struggle" ensued as he tried to disarm her, but they ended up on the floor, which is where he realised she was bleeding.

The father-of-three also claimed he tried to end his own life by cutting his throat once he realised that his fiancee was dead, and that he cuddled her while waiting for emergency services to arrive.

But Lyness' version of events was rejected by the jury of seven men and five women, who found contradictory evidence that was heard during the three-week trial more compelling.

That included evidence from his own son. A police tape of the distressed teenager was previously played to the court in which he described in graphic detail how he witnessed his drunken father straddling Ms Downey and "sawing" at her neck.

Prior to stumbling upon the gruesome scene, he said he witnessed his dad "punching and violently abusing" Ms Downey, who was also drunk.

The teen was adamant that his father "knew what he was going for when he went to the kitchen" to get the knife and said he backed off in fear.

He only rushed into the living room when Ms Downey began screaming for help.

"There was blood everywhere," he said during evidence.

The teenager also said he couldn't understand why Ms Downey was "so calm" as her life slipped away.

"She just looked at me: 'Your dad's cutting me'," he said.

After seeing a hole in Ms Downey's neck and blood "dripping" from a knife in his father's hand, the teenager said he "just freaked out" and ran, but his father followed him, threatening to turn the knife on himself after what had happened.

When cross-examined, defence QC Richard Greene asked if his dad was actually trying to stop the blood flow, but the teenager replied: "No."

When asked what his father was doing, he replied: "Cutting her."

Most damning to Lyness' version, however, was evidence from assistant State Pathologist for Northern Ireland Dr Christopher Johnston, who ruled out the possibility of the wound being accidental.

During the trial Dr Johnston said the only way a wound such as Ms Downey's could have been caused was by "somebody taking a knife and cutting her throat with it".

Earlier this week Lyness chose to answer only a handful of questions from his own barrister before withdrawing the instructions of his legal team.

He then refused to speak under cross-examination, prompting the Crown prosecutor to claim his silence was due to the "ridiculous" version of events which he gave to police.

He then accused Lyness of beating Ms Downey before straddling her on the floor and cutting her neck in a sawing motion with a £6.99 kitchen knife bought from TK Maxx.

Following the verdict, Judge Miller thanked relatives who he said conducted themselves "in an exemplary fashion" and displayed "dignity" during the trial, despite having suffered as a result of "this grievous act".

Dressed in a black suit and bright purple tie, Lyness showed no emotion as prison staff were ordered to "take him down".

He will return for a further hearing which will determine exactly how long he must spend behind bars before he is eligible for release.

Judge Miller said he expects that to happen quickly after granting a certificate to allow Lyness access to counsel, which must now prepare arguments for the sentencing hearing.

Belfast Telegraph

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