A Newtownards man has become the second person to be found guilty by a jury of the murder of farm labourer Philip Strickland.
The jury at Belfast Crown Court returned the guilty verdict against Stephen Charles McCaughey yesterday following three days of deliberations.
The 26-year-old, from Shackleton Walk, was also found guilty of possessing a shotgun with intent.
After being told he would serve a life sentence in prison, Mr Justice Weir remanded McCaughey in custody. As he was being led from the dock, he shrugged his shoulders to relatives in the public gallery.
Mr Strickland, 37, died on the outskirts of Comber on January 11, 2012. He was shot in the leg at a yard on the Ballyglighorn Road before being bundled into the boot of his own car and driven a short distance to the Ballydrain Road, where he was shot in the face at point-blank range.
McCaughey admitted being present when Mr Strickland was killed, but consistently denied involvement in the murder.
He is the second man to be found guilty of murder. On Monday his co-accused, 56-year old Jimmy Seales from the Ballykeel Road in Hillsborough, was found guilty of murdering Mr Strickland and possessing a shotgun with intent.
Two of Seales’ sons, Ian and Jason Weir, have already admitted their role in the murder. Following the two guilty verdicts, all four men have now been handed a life sentence and will learn at a later date how much time they will spend in prison.
McCaughey – who went on the run for several days following the murder before handing himself in at a police checkpoint – said he was asked to go to the yard by Jason Weir, who told him there may be a bit of trouble.
McCaughey told the jury during the six-week trial that he “did what any friend would do” and went to the yard on the fateful evening, but said he wasn’t aware a weapon would be present or that anyone would be killed.
It has always been the Crown’s case that all four people – Jimmy Seales, Ian Weir, Jason Weir and Stephen McCaughey – went to the yard with the joint purpose of inflicting serious injury on Mr Strickland, and that by lending assistance to each other, all four participated in the crime and were equally guilty.
During the trial, the jury was told that four months prior to the murder, Seales was subjected to a vicious assault during which he was stabbed in the throat, had both his arms broken and was left for dead.
Following the attack, graffiti appeared in Comber and comments were made on Facebook which were attributed to Mr Strickland. It was the Crown’s case that the comments were not well received by Seales.