Northern Ireland news

Anthony McErlane died of 'gratuitous and extensive violence'

Anthony McErlane

A CO Antrim man died as a result of "gratuitous and extensive violence'' in a drunken fight during which he sustained over 40 injuries, a court has been told.

Christopher Keenan (36), of Broombeg View, Ballycastle, pleaded guilty in March to the murder of Anthony McErlane and is currently serving a mandatory life sentence.

During a tariff hearing today at Antrim Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, the prosecution argued that his starting point for sentence without parole should be of 15-16 years given the level of violence the labourer had sustained.

Prosecution counsel Jackie Orr told Mr Justice Colton that on January 28, 2016, the 48-year-old victim had been drinking with Christopher Keenan and John Keenan at John Keenan's flat in Broombeg view.

A post mortem revealed that he had sustained 24 separate injuries to the head and neck, along with a further 20 injuries to his arms and trunk, although some of these may not have been associated with the assault.

The pathologist said the injuries were caused by "kicks and punches'' and also striking an "abrasive surface'' and would have caused a "high blood loss''.

He also sustained a broken nose, a broken bone to his neck and injuries to his throat and lower lip caused by being hit with a broken ceramic pot.

Christopher Keenan, the court heard, claimed to police that his 51-year-old uncle, John Keenan, had struck Mr McErlane with the pot.

Although the pathologist could not give an exact cause of death, he said that he believed death was probably due to the injuries to his head and neck "associated with his alcohol intoxication''.

At the time of his death Mr McErlane's blood alcohol reading was 323 microgrammes in 100 millilitres of blood - almost four times the drink drive limit.

Ms Orr told the court that Christopher Keenan was later arrested by police and on his way to police custody for questioning, he told officers: "How long do you get for murder these days?''

At interview, he said that an argument broke out which developed into a fight, saying he and his uncle were hitting Mr McErlane.

The defendant admitted punching the victim with his right hand and and kicked him on the ground with his right foot to the head, the court heard.

He told police: "It was a bloodbath. The place was soaked in blood. I was soaked in blood and he was soaked in blood." He added that the he realised at this point he had "gone to far''.

Ms Orr told the court that Mr McErlane had been subjected to "gratuitous and extensive violence''.

She added that among the aggravating factors that pushed the tariff sentence from a normal starting of 12 years without parole to 15-16 years, was that Mr McErlane was "vulnerable'', and that he had been kicked repeatedly whilst lying prone on the ground.

She told the judge that had Keenan's lengthy record of 101 convictions was another aggravating factor, with convictions for violent assault, robbery, and a large number of assaults on police.

Mr Justice Colton said he wanted some time to consider all the papers and reports and adjourned to May 11.

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