Two Co Antrim men who admitted murdering a Chinese restaurateur and seriously injuring his wife after ramming their jeep, needed money to pay off a paramilitary drugs debt, a court has heard.
Nelson Cheung was stabbed 18 times and his wife Winnie sustained wounds to her head and hand in the violent robbery.
Belfast Crown Court heard that prior to the murder in the early hours of January 8, 2015, killers Christopher David Menaul, 27, and 35-year-old Virgilio Augusto Fernando Correia, undertook a ‘dry run’, which was captured on CCTV.
Following Mr Cheung’s murder, his wife Winnie and their two children returned to Hong Kong, from where they watched yesterday’s proceedings via Skype.
Crown prosecutor David McDowell QC said victim impact reports “make heart-wrending reading and demonstrate the extreme pain brought to the family by the loss of a much-loved father, husband and brother, who clearly led an industrious and unblemished life prior to his untimely demise”.
The killers, said the lawyer, had laid in wait in a stolen car for the Cheungs to lock up their Double Value restaurant on Randalstown’s Main Street, before ambusing the couple as Mrs Cheung drove along the Claddy Road.
Mrs Cheung said later she saw her husband being dragged away by Correia, who struck him a number of times as Menaul approached their jeep, pulling her out by the hair and attacking her.
Mr McDowell said that when the duo fled, Mrs Cheung ran to a nearby house for help, but covered in blood, the occupants were alarmed by her appearance and wouldn’t let her into their home. They did, however, call the emergency services.
Mr Cheung, who was stabbed multiple times in the neck, chest and upper body, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Following the murder, Menaul and Correia drove to the home of Gary and Lisa Thompson, at Cunningham Way in Antrim. The couple, who now live at Felden Avenue in Newtownabbey, allowed the killers to use their home for refuge, to remove clothing worn during the incident and to clean themselves.
All four accused initially denied involvement before, according to Mr McDowell, Menual “broke rank and pleaded guilty first, which made life extremely difficult for his co-defendants”.
Menaul, originally from Barra Street in Antrim, pleaded guilty to murder on the grounds he was a secondary party, was not armed with a knife and didn’t intend to harm or kill anyone. He also admitted wounding Mrs Cheung with intent to do her grievous bodily harm, and stealing her handbag.
Correia, of Portuguese birth and whose address in January 2015 was Grant Avenue in Randalstown, also pleaded guilty to the same three charges.
The court heard that prior to the murder, both Correia and Menaul owed drug money to paramilitaries and had been threatened as a result. Correia was also heard talking about Chinese people and how they had lots of money.
Gary and Lisa Thompson both admitted a charge of assisting offenders by allowing Correia and Menaul to clean up in their home, and also a charge of perverting the course of justice – namely threatening Correia so as to discourage him from providing his account to police, on January 12, 2015.
And whilst Gary Thompson, 34, admitted a charge of robbing Mrs Cheung of a handbag and its contents, his 35-year old wife Lisa admitted handling the stolen goods.
Defence barrister Gavan Duffy QC, representing Correia, apologised on his client’s behalf, saying Correia “regrets his actions and feels sick and sorry for both victims and their family”.
Mr Duffy spoke of the devastating impact drugs have had upon Correia, pointing out there was nothing on his criminal record that “hints he was a person capable of such violence”.
Sentence on the self-confessed killers and the couple who helped them afterwards, was adjourned until Tuesday of next week.