Northern Ireland

Man 'can't recall killing his best friend'

A County Antrim man who can't remember stabbing his best friend to death is facing an indeterminate or a life sentence for the unlawful killing.

Londonderry Crown Court heard that alcoholic Leon Robert Paul Johnston was suffering from an abnormality of the mind when he stabbed Michael McLaughlin, 24, four times in his flat near Castledawson in August 2010.

The judge adjourned the case until September given the "highly technical" nature in fixing the appropriate sentence.

Johnston, 26, from Ballydugenna Villas in Toomebridge pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

'Oblivion'

Defence and prosecution psychiatrists agreed that Johnston suffered from a recognised mental condition, that substantially impaired his ability to exercise any control over his actions following four days of "drinking to apparent oblivion".

The court heard that Johnston and McLaughlin were the best of friends, who at times fell out in drink, but always made up.

On the night in question Mr McLaughlin returned home with his girlfriend, Johnston's sister, and a group of friends.

In the flat they found Johnston sleeping in the front room. The court heard that at times Johnston would awake, but those present could get no sense from him as he was "talking silly talk" before dozing off agan.

One stage he and Mr McLaughlin had "an altercation", which was soon settled after a few punches were thrown.

However, following a later dispute Johnston went to the kitchen and returned to the living room with a knife to confront his friend.

A post mortem showed that the fourth of four wounds proved fatal, having punctured Mr McLaughlin's lung and severed a major artery.

Crisis point

Police later found Johnston staggering on the roadway. When stopped he told officers: "It was me. I did it. Arrest me."

Later, when sober enough to be interviewed he said he "had no memory of what happened in the flat".

Defence QC James Gallagher said that a "deeply remorseful" Johnston had a troubled life.

Mr Gallagher said that by the time August 2010 came, Johnston's drinking and drug abuse "had really reached crisis point", and on the day of the stabbing, those who saw him described him as being "pathetically drunk".

"Obviously this is a great tragedy, a tragedy not only because Mr McLaughlin lost his life, but also because, without any shadow of a doubt, he was the best friend of Leon Johnston," added the lawyer.

Adjourning sentence the judge said in addition to the "very technical pathways" to be considered before deciding on the appropriate sentence, he also wished to set down any sentencing remarks in writing.