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Stephen McKinney guilty of murdering wife Lu Na on Fermanagh boating holiday


Stephen McKinney denied murdering his 35-year-old wife. Pic Presseye

Stephen McKinney denied murdering his 35-year-old wife. Pic Presseye

Stephen McKinney denied murdering his 35-year-old wife. Pic Presseye

A Co Tyrone man has been jailed for life for murdering his wife as their children slept on the first night of a family boating holiday on Fermanagh's Lower Lough Erne four years ago.

A jury unanimously convicted Stephen McKinney of killing his wife Lu Na in April 2017.

As the verdict was announced the 44-year-old father of two swayed forward slightly on his feet, but showed no other emotion, before taking a sip of water from a bottle.

Madam Justice McBride told McKinney he had been "convicted of murder and the only sentence I can impose is one of life imprisonment".

McKinney will have to wait before the court later rules on how long he must serve before being considered for release from the life term by the Parole Commissioners.

The Dungannon Crown Court jury of eight men and four women took just over an hour and a half to reach their unanimous verdict at the end of his 12-week trial.

They had been considering what occurred at the Devenish Island west jetty before his 40-minute 999 call for help in the early hours of April 13, 2017.

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Lu Na McKinney

Lu Na McKinney

Lu Na McKinney

By their verdict the jury accepted the prosecution had 'proved beyond reasonable doubt' their circumstantial case accusing McKinney of being a con artist and a liar and a controlling man who had tired of his 35-year-old wife yet feared she might divorce him.

They also accepted the contention of prosecution QC Richard Weir that McKinney caused Lu Na to “enter the water” of the Lower Lough', that he "killed her" and her death "was no tragic boating accident".

In turn the jury rejected McKinney's claims his wife - who had taken at least one sleeping tablet - simply disappeared off the end of the hire-cruiser into "blackness" after going to check the mooring ropes and that he did everything to save her.

They also did not accept defence QC Martin O'Rourke's contention McKinney was truthful throughout and his 999 calls provided a "ringside seat" into what happened, backed up by other witnesses and his own police interviews.

This is the second time that McKinney, originally from Strabane, and who lived with his wife and children in Convoy, Donegal, but bailed to live in Castletown Square, Fintona, has been on trial.

Last year his original trial for the murder of his wife between April 11 and 14 2017, had to be adjourned because of the start of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the start of both trials, Mr Weir opened the case by squarely blaming McKinney for his wife’s death. Her lifeless body was pulled from the water by police just hours after the family had set off on a three-night holiday cruise.

It later transpired Mrs McKinney had taken at least one, possibly two, Zopiclone tablets, the most commonly used sedative after Diazepam.

By the close of his opening, he told the jury: “We say this is a controlling man, who tired of his wife but was not prepared to accept she might divorce him with all the consequences that would have.

“This is not a tragic boating accident, we say he caused Lu Na to be in the water.... that he killed his wife.”

And by their verdict today, the jury agreed with him, taken with all of the strands of evidence, including that of the detectives who interviewed him 25 times over five days for almost 24 hours.

They had continually put it to McKinney his was a troubled marriage and he could see no way out, and feared his wife might divorce him, taking away the children at the centre of his life, and this had “burst (his) bubble”.

By the final interview, they put it to him his wife’s plans forced him “over the edge”, and to him “the ends justified the means” to ensure he would never lose his children ­— the most “important, biggest feature” in his life.

And McKinney was “not prepared to let that happen”, and so “organised, planned the boat trip”.

During the trial, the jury heard the cruiser Nobel Cadet had been hired from Manor House Marina.

McKinney said it was an early Easter treat for the children and, more importantly, to celebrate the couple’s upcoming 14th wedding anniversary. Yet he told neighbours it was to celebrate a new job, a job he never got and only heard of during the cruise.

The prosecution said it also transpired before the family set off, he deliberately failed to ensure there were life jackets for all onboard, even though he had been told to collect two more from the marina office.

The prosecutor maintained while the defendant was the only ‘eyewitness’ — and the case against him circumstantial, but cogent — such was its strength, the jury would be drawn to the only conclusion that he was a killer, and they did.

Yet another strand of prosecution evidence were his two 999 calls to the emergency services, which Mr Weir said was the lie behind all his claims and that their stylised tone was “extraordinary” and demonstrated McKinney “had difficulty keeping his story straight”.

Counsel said the calls initially had husband and wife on the jetty when Lu Na fell into the water. Then again why, the jury were asked, would McKinney jump into the water after her when a life belt and a boat hook were close to hand?

Counsel said McKinney claimed following his attempts at rescue, he could not see his wife in the water, while according to police who arrived at the scene, she was practically touching the back of the boat.

Mr Weir repeatedly asked why McKinney failed to see his wife in the water while police clearly could, albeit using a hand-held torch.

The jury were told the calls showed up clear discrepancies in what he reported and later went on to tell others, police, neighbours and friends differing versions of how his wife end up drowning.

They ranged from her falling from the jetty, to seeing her fall from the boat sideways, to seeing her trip and fall from the back of the cruiser, to not seeing her, only hearing a splash and a call for help, but no first scream.

Counsel also pointed out McKinney even suggested the weather that night was very windy and the boat was rocking, which the lawyer said was almost the complete opposite to all of the other evidence.

At the end of the prosecution case, McKinney, as his right, did not give evidence. What proper inference, if any, the jury may or may not have took from that is unknown.

However, in his closing, Mr Weir pointed out while McKinney was the only source, witness as to what occurred, it was vital explanations for any difference be given, but none had been forthcoming.

And while inconsistency may not indicate untruthfulness, the lawyer recommended it as a good starting point as all his ‘utterances’ about what happened needed to be examined very, very carefully.

Madam Justice McBride had also told them his choice not to give evidence alone could not result in a guilty verdict, and the jury must be firmly convinced, having considered all of the evidence, of his guilt.

By their verdict, they have concluded in the end, McKinney lied and was indeed the killer who had planned the boat trip to murder his wife.

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