Ex-officer appeals knife attack murder conviction

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An ex-police officer’s conviction for murdering his girlfriend in a knife attack at their Co Londonderry home 12 years ago is unsafe, the Court of Appeal has heard.

Mother-of-two Jillian Doherty, 43, was stabbed to death in January 2003, suffering 30 knife wounds in what was described by the trial judge as a “frenzied assault”.

But lawyers for her partner William Ernest Coulter argued on Wednesday that he was wrongly found guilty of her murder.

They contended the jury received flawed directions that he had an intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm.

Coulter, 63, is serving an 18-year prison sentence imposed for the knife attack.

His trial heard how the former RUC full-time reservist had been drinking with Ms Doherty when a row broke out at the couple’s home on Mill Road in Portstewart.

At some stage she struck him on the face with a wine glass, and later entered the bedroom carrying a knife.

Coulter was said to have disarmed her before launching his attack.

Ms Doherty sustained 21 stab wounds and another nine incised cuts.

The defendant had pleaded guilty to manslaughter but denied murder.

Opening Coulter’s appeal, barrister Brendan Kelly QC set out how he claimed to have been wrongly advised at the time to plead to manslaughter.

He also claimed the trial judge misdirected the jury on the issues of murder and alleged provocation.

“They were given the distinct impression by his plea that he had admitted murder or at least the intention to cause grievous bodily harm,” Mr Kelly said.

“Given the nature of the charge and given in particular the background of all the information ... there at least starts the seeds of a lurking doubt (about the safety of the conviction).”

Following further submissions Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, sitting with Lord Justices Gillen and Weatherup, reserved judgment in the appeal.