Northern Ireland news

Stephen McKinney found guilty of boat trip murder of wife Lu Na

Jury found Stephen McKinney guilty of murdering his wife Lu Na

CO Tyrone man Stephen McKinney has been jailed for life for murdering his wife Lu Na as their children slept on the first night of a family boating holiday on Lough Erne.

As the unanimous guilty verdict was announced the 44-year-old father of two swayed forward slightly on his feet, but showed no other emotion.

Madam Justice McBride told McKinney, who did not take the stand during the trial, that 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 consider for release from the life term by the Parole Commissioners.

The Dungannon Crown Court jury took just over an hour and a half to reach their unanimous verdict at the end of his 12-week trial into what occurred at the Devenish Island west jetty, on Lower Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh, before his 40-minute 999 call for help in the early hours of April 13 2017.

By their verdict the jury must have accepted the prosecution had 'proved beyond reasonable doubt' their circumstantial case accusing McKinney of being a liar and that in reality he was a controlling man who had tired of his 35-year-old wife, but feared she might divorce him.

They must also have 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" but that he had planned the trip with murder in mind.

In turn the jury must have rejected McKinney's claims his wife who'd 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 must also have ignored 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.

Stephen McKinney who was found guilty of murdering his wife. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

This is the second time that Mr 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 Zipaclone 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 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.

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