Soldier ‘did not connect fight with man’s death’

Lee Smyth
Lee Smyth

A soldier, accused of being involved in a brutal attack on a man who survived in a vegetative coma for two years before dying in a nursing home, did not make any connection between the fight and the man’s death, a murder trial heard yesterday.

Armagh Crown Court also heard that it was the victim, 32-year-old Lee Smyth, who “threw the first punch” when he confronted 23-year-old soldier Michael Wilson, from Marlacoo Road, Tandragee.

Wilson, who is also accused of stealing a cheap tobacco tin from Mr Smyth, denies murder, along with 24-year-old Gareth McKinney, originally with an address at Charles Park, Portadown.

Prosecution QC Terence Mooney claimed that Mr Smyth, who was so badly beaten that he never regained consciousness, had been treated “like a trampoline” with his attackers using their “shod feet” as weapons to jump on him as he lay prone, motionless and defenceless on the ground.

The lawyer also told trial judge Mr Justice Weir and the jury of six women and six men that a former girlfriend of McKinney would contradict his assertion that he was not involved in the attack, or Wilson’s claim that, while present, he played no role.

However, Lindsay Bell, who began her evidence in tears, shaking almost uncontrollably, in the end agreed with defence QC Arthur Harvey, for the soldier from the Royal Irish Regiment, that even after the man’s death Wilson “still did not appreciate it was connected with what happened on that path on that day”.

The court heard that Mr Smyth was almost unrecognisable when found in the early hours of June 6, 2010 in the Folly area of the ‘Cathedral City’ by a woman out walking her dog. He survived in a coma until June 12, 2012 when, having continued to deteriorate, his family made the agonising decision, based on medical advice, to withhold further treatment.

The prosecution claimed that the attack was a result of the all too distressingly familiar story of young men emboldened by drink who met and – for whatever reason – then engaged in violence.

Mr Mooney claimed that both McKinney and Wilson, free from all constraint, had engaged in a totally unwarranted attack on a defenceless Mr Smyth. As a result of the beating, he added, Mr Smyth suffered a catastrophic brain injury. The case continues.