THREE men whose convictions for murdering a Co Antrim schoolboy were quashed are to face a retrial, the Court of Appeal ordered yesterday.
Senior judges ruled it was in the interests of justice to bring fresh proceedings against Aaron Wallace, Christopher Kerr and Jeff Lewis for the killing of Michael McIlveen.
A new hearing will begin at Antrim Crown Court in three weeks time, although doubts remain over Lewis's fitness to stand trial on that date.
His barrister said it could take another two months to complete an assessment of undisclosed health issues affecting him.
Meanwhile, Wallace was granted bail while Kerr is to remain in custody until the trial begins.
Last month all three men's murder convictions were declared unsafe due to flaws in how the jury was directed.
Michael McIlveen (15) died after being chased and attacked by a crowd in Ballymena in May 2006.
He was beaten with a baseball bat and allegedly kicked as he lay defenceless in an alleyway.
Wallace (23), formerly of Moat Road, Kerr (25), from Carnduff Drive, and Lewis (22) of Rossdale - all in Ballymena - were originally found guilty of his murder and given minimum jail terms ranging from 10 to 13 years.
A fourth man, Mervyn Wilson Moon (23) of Douglas Terrace in the town, had admitted the killing at the start of the trial.
Following the quashing of their convictions the prosecution confirmed that it was seeking a retrial.
Counsel for the three appellants argued against such a move due to the passage of time and evidential issues.
Frank O'Donoghue QC, for Kerr, said his client has already served nearly seven years in prison.
"In the context of a relatively young defendant that is a very significant period of time indeed," he said.
Wallace's barrister, Brendan Kelly QC, said any new jury could struggle to ignore the publicity which surrounded the previous trial.
Judges also heard how Lewis is due to be transferred from prison to another appropriate location due to his medical condition.
His barrister, Richard Weir QC, raised issues over his fitness to undergo a retrial.
"I'm told by my instructing solicitor that it will require a period of at least two months for an accurate and compete assessment of Mr Lewis's state of health," he said.
However, John Orr QC, for the prosecution, contended that all defence concerns could be dealt with by a trial judge.
Following submissions Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, Lord Justice Higgins and Lord Justice Coghlin ordered a new hearing.
Sir Declan said: "We have decided that this is a case where there should be a retrial.
"In light of the publicity issues we consider it inadvisable to say anything more, other than to say the interests of justice do require a retrial."
The case was listed to begin at Antrim Crown Court on January 28.
However, Sir Declan acknowledged it may not be possible to begin proceedings against Lewis on that date.
Wallace, who was not in custody at the time of the original trial, was readmitted to bail.
He is to live at an undisclosed address and banned from entering Ballymena as part of his release conditions. ■ FRESH PROCEEDINGS: From left, Michael McIlveen who died following an assault in Ballymena in 2006; Aaron Wallace, Christopher Kerr and Jeff Lewis who all face a retrial for Michael's murder after their previous convictions were quashed last month