Christopher Meli: Two men admit manslaughter
TWO men have admitted a charge of manslaughter almost four years after Christopher Meli was killed in west Belfast.
Mr Meli (20) was beaten to death on a pathway known as Doc's Lane in Twinbrook on the evening of December 12 2015 following a series of violent altercations.
Three men originally from west Belfast - Caolan Laverty, Stephen McCann and Lee Smyth - were all charged with, and denied, murdering Mr Meli, and were due to stand trial next week.
The trio appeared at Belfast Crown Court today, where barristers for both Laverty (20) and Smyth (22) asked that the murder charge be put to them again.
A clerk of the court put the charge firstly to Laverty, and when he was asked how he pleaded, he replied "not guilty to murder, guilty to manslaughter". Laverty, with an address at Belfast Road in Glenavy, also pleaded guilty to a charge of assaulting Stephen Woods and occasioning him actual bodily harm.
When the same charge was put to Smyth, he also replied "not guilty to murder, guilty to manslaughter". Smyth, who is currently in HMP Maghaberry, also pleaded guilty to two counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and of fighting and making an affray on the night in question.
McCann, with an address at Dundrinne Road in Castlewellan, had been charged with murder. When a charge of affray was put to the 22-year old, he replied "guilty".
Prosecuting barrister Neil Connor QC told Mr Justice Colton that Laverty and Smyth's plea to manslaughter "are acceptable to the prosecution".
Regarding McCann, the barrister said the murder charge against him was to be "left on the books in the usual terms" and will not be proceeded with.
Mr Connor said that in light of today's pleas, "that means that a trial is no longer required in this case".
Five other co-accused have already entered pleas to various charges arising from a series of incidents and altercations which culminated in the death of Mr Meli.
Mr Justice Colton branded the case as "complex", but said he wanted to sentence as soon as possible as he was "conscious of the defendants, and the parents of the victim".
Barristers for Laverty, Smyth and McCann asked that pre-sentence reports be compiled ahead of sentencing, which was listed to take place on December 19.
Mr Connor added that victim impact reports will also be compiled and handed to the court ahead of sentencing.
Whilst McCann was released and Smyth was remanded back into custody, Laverty's barrister asked that his client be granted continuing bail ahead of next month's sentencing.
John Kearney QC said: "There are a lot of matters that he needs to attend to. He has a full-time job and a young child. There are a lot of matters for him to tie up".
The judge granted this and said "I will release Mr Laverty on continuing bail pending his sentence on December the 19th".