Northern Ireland

Killer Paul Morrin has jail term reduced by two years

Paul James Morrin, 43, outside the court
Image caption Paul James Morrin used a seven-inch blade to stab his victim

A man who was jailed for 20 years for the murder of a teenager in Londonderry is to have his jail term reduced by two years.

Paul James Morrin, 46, stabbed 19-year-old Gerald O'Hagan 15 times in his flat in Galliagh Park in February 2006.

Mr O'Hagan was knifed 15 times in the back and neck, severing the jugular vein, during the attack.

The court heard during his trial in 2008 that Morrin had deliberately taken a photograph of Mr O'Hagan's body.

The teenager's body was discovered hours after he had been out celebrating his nineteenth birthday.

Appeal

Morrin, a former process operator with Seagate, claimed to have woken in his flat, still drunk, and then found the victim lying in a bedroom.

He challenged the sentence imposed on him after failing in an earlier bid to have his murder conviction overturned.

In May, the Court of Appeal rejected arguments that Morrin had received a flawed trial before being found guilty.

Delivering judgment in the appeal on Thursday, Mr Justice Hart said there was no argument that a higher starting point in sentencing had been appropriate.

The judge detailed a number of "macabre features" identified in the case, including the taking by Morrin of a perfectly framed photo of the victim after he had been killed, cigarette ash found on his body, and the unexplained presence of a meat cleaver at the scene.

Extensive injuries

Mr Justice Hart, sitting with Lord Justice Higgins and Lord Justice Coghlin, said the court was satisfied the trial judge was entitled to form the conclusion that a trophy photograph may have been taken.

He said: "Taking all of these circumstances into account, namely the vulnerability of the deceased at the time he was attacked, the extensive nature of the injuries inflicted upon him, the cold and casual viewing of the deceased's body, and the presence of the cigarette ash on his back, indicative of the defendant having smoked at a point where the body was lying in front of him, we consider this was a proper case in which to impose a minimum term significantly in excess of 15 to 16 years."

However, Morrin's barrister, Brian McCartney QC, also argued that the trial judge appeared to have penalised him for contesting the case.

Reference was made to the prosecution identifying his attempt to evade responsibility as an aggravating factor, and to his claims that the murder was either carried out by someone else or by him while sleepwalking as being "a complete charade".

Responsibility

Mr Justice Hart pointed out that defendants cannot be punished further for contesting cases, no matter how incredible their defence, because they have the right to plead not guilty.

He said: "We consider that the trial judge's apparent acceptance of the prosecution's submission that the defendant's attempt to evade responsibility was an aggravating factor, and the remarks which we have cited, lend support to Mr McCartney's submission that the judge penalised the defendant for the manner in which he contested the case by treating this as an aggravating factor.

"In those circumstances we have considered the sentence afresh, and determined that the appropriate minimum term should be one of 18 years imprisonment.

"We vary the sentence accordingly, and to that extent the appeal is allowed."

After the verdict was delivered, one of the victim's relatives stood up in the public gallery and shouted: "Shame on you."

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