Belfast Telegraph

Two more to face trial on charges linked to murder of young dad (20)

Two more people are to stand trial later this year on offences arising out of the murder of Christopher Meli in west Belfast
Two more people are to stand trial later this year on offences arising out of the murder of Christopher Meli in west Belfast

By John Cassidy

Two more people are to stand trial later this year on offences arising out of the murder of Christopher Meli in west Belfast.

Daniel McManus (19), of Springbank Drive, Dunmurry, and Shannon McIlwaine (20), of Glenalina Park, both in west Belfast, appeared yesterday at Belfast Crown Court for a ruling on their case.

Mr Justice Colton dismissed applications by their legal teams to have charges of affray against each of them dismissed on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

The senior judge said that although they were not accused of engaging in violence on the night of Mr Meli's murder on December 12, 2015, he had come to the conclusion "that their conduct taken at its height is sufficient to put each of the defendants on trial for affray".

Dismissing the application, Mr Justice Colton added: "I am satisfied that the affray took place in a public place and in such a manner that a bystander or reasonably firm character might reasonably expect it to be terrifying."

Following his ruling, both defendants were formally arraigned on a single count that they "unlawfully displayed force and made affray" on December 12, 2015.

Both replied "not guilty" to the charge and were released on continuing bail ahead of the start of their trial on September 9 this year.

In January this year six other people were returned for trial in connection with Mr Meli's murder.

Three of the six defendants are charged with murdering the 20-year-old father-of-one, while their co-accused face other charges linked to alleged incidents on the evening.

Mr Meli was beaten to death and his body was discovered at Doc's Path in Glasvey Close, Twinbrook.

At the time police believed up to 20 young people were involved in a number of violent incidents that culminated in his death.

All six accused appeared at Belfast Crown Court where they heard the trial could last up to 12 weeks.

The trio accused of murdering Mr Meli are Caolan Laverty (19) from Belfast Road in Glenavy; Stephen McCann (21) from Dundrinne Road in Castlewellan, and 21-year-old Lee Smyth, who was living at an undisclosed address in Co Antrim.

All three pleaded not guilty to the murder charge.

McCann, Laverty and Smyth were also charged with, and denied, two separate charges of fighting and causing an affray on December 12, 2015.

Also charged with causing an affray were Gary Samuel Lewis (20), from Thompson House on the Antrim Road in Belfast; 21-year-old Aaron Stilges from Laurelvale in Crumlin, and Daniel McGrath (21), from Thornhill Crescent in Dunmurry. All three denied this charge when it was put to them in court.

Five of the accused - Smyth, Laverty, Lewis, McGrath and Stilges - were charged with, and denied, attempting to cause grievous bodily harm to Ryan Morris, while Laverty, Smyth, Stilges and McGrath face and deny an additional charge of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm to Steven Woods.

Smyth, Stilges and Lewis were also charged with assaulting Mr Woods and causing him actual bodily harm.

When this charge was put to the three men, they each replied "not guilty".

Belfast Telegraph

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