A 33-year-old Londonderry man who saw himself as a “knight in shining armour” faces an extended jail term for knifing his uncle to death after involving himself in something “which was none of his business”.
James Anthony Healy, a father of one, of Hollymount Park, admitted stabbing his 56-year-old uncle, Christopher McGaughey, following a set of arguments after a family get-together on October 30, 2011.
Healy was originally charged with murdering his uncle, but the prosecution accepted his guilty plea to the lesser charge of manslaughter given his genuine remorse and the possibility he did not intend his uncle’s death.
Londonderry Crown Court Judge Piers Grant said Healy had told authorities he felt he was protecting women from being physically abused, but that he was “no knight in shining armour” given his own criminal record for domestic violence.
Defence QC Greg Berry yesterday said that a drunken Healy had wrongly perceived that bruises on his cousin’s arm had been caused by his uncle.
“In a nutshell,” explained Mr Berry, Healy then, “became involved in something he should not have”.
Prosection QC Liam McCollum told the court, sitting in Downpatrick Crown Court, that Healy went home and armed himself with a baseball bat and returned to the family party to confront his uncle, who duly disarmed him. Healy fled the scene to his mother’s home, where he armed himself with two knives.
Mr McCollum said Healy later told police the knives were “never meant to be used, it was only a scare tactic”.
However, the court also heard when uncle and son, armed with the baseball bat, arrived at the house there was a confrontation. It appeared Mr McGaughey swung the bat at Healy, but missed, and in the following struggle, he was stabbed once in the heart.
Mr Berry said Healy never intended to cause his uncle serious injury, let alone kill him, and it appeared the fatal blow was struck when both men fell during a scuffle and Mr McGaughey “ended up on top” of his nephew.
Mr Berry described the tragic events of that night as “a case of what-ifs” – such as Healy wrongly perceiving what his uncle had done, or, following their first row, Mr McGaughey had not gone looking for his nephew, who had unfortunately armed himself.
The defence lawyer said Healy had displayed genuine remorse from the outset.
Mr Berry said this remorse was neither belated, nor was it crocodile tears – and that his guilty plea had spared everyone the ordeal of having to relive the tragic events of that night.
Healy will be sentenced next week.