Four Co Down men will have to wait another week before learning how long they must serve for the May 2017 killing of Carrick man Colin Horner.
Mr Justice Colton told Alan James Wilson, Joseph Blair, Robert Ralph, and Ryan Graham Smyth, who he has already sentenced to life for the murder of the 35-year-old, that he would review the prosecution evidence and submissions made by their defence counsel before determining their minimum sentence.
Crown counsel earlier revealed that although unable to identify the actual gunman, the prosecution believed “each of these four accused were part of a joint enterprise involving the targeting and deliberate killing of Colin Horner.
“The court may conclude that there were paramilitary overtones to the murder. It was in the nature of a professional or contract killing, committed by such an organisation or a similar organised crime gang.”
The Belfast Crown Court, no-jury Diplock style tariff hearing heard claims there had been earlier attempt to assassinate Mr Horner. Shortly before midnight on May 11 Mr Horner had phoned his partner to alert her up to 30 men were spotted near their home, telling her to get the police.
Counsel said the various roles of Newtownards men, 30-year-old Wilson of North Green, Blair (35), of Shackleton Walk, and Ralph, (47) of Donaghadee Road, and 31-year-old Bangor man Smyth of Windsor Gardens, was demonstrated through CCTV footage, text message traffic, and cell-site analysis of their mobile phones.
Also awaiting sentence on separate charges of withholding information are 48-year-old Adrian Gordon Price, of Bristol Park, Newtownards, and Terrie Aicken (24) from Green Road, Conlig.
The murder charge against Price, was ‘allowed to remain on the books’, as was a charge of perverting public justice against Aicken. Both were freed on continuing bail.
Lawyer for three of the men stressed that, as counsel had said, they deserved credit for their guilty pleas.
Gavin Duffy QC for Wilson said he had been “prevailed upon to get involved and with reluctance agreed” and that his role was “unsophisticated”.
Brendan Kelly, QC for Smyth, said it was clear he was unwillingly involved and that he “was not the gunman or the organiser”.
Frank O’Donoghue QC said the involvement of his client Blair arose because he was “beholding” to others.
Elis McDermott said her client Ralph only became involved at a late stage.