A man jailed for shooting dead his wife’s former lover in Belfast 12 years ago failed today in a bid to overturn his murder conviction.
Appeal judges rejected claims that Louis Maguire was denied a fair trial for the killing of David “Digger” Barnes by being left to defend himself when his legal team withdrew from the case.
He is now considering whether to try to challenge the verdict at the Supreme Court in London.
Mr Barnes, 39, was shot as he lay in bed beside his girlfriend in March 2003.
A gunman smashed his way into the victim’s Brookvale Avenue flat in the north of the city before firing a shot at him.
Maguire, formerly of Whinpark Road in Newtownards, Co Down, was said to have carried out the killing while on weekend leave from serving a prison sentence for robbery.
In 2006 the 49-year-old received a 24-year sentence after being convicted of the murder and a separate arson attack on the home of a relative of Mr Barnes.
He sought to overturn the guilty verdicts by claiming the trial process was unfair.
The Court of Appeal was told he was unrepresented for 54 of the 75 days that hearing lasted.
Maguire alleged that his senior counsel had told him he was going to be convicted and sentenced to 20 years in jail.
Denying that he then sacked his legal team entirely of his own choice, he claimed an agreement was instead reached for his barrister to come out of the case.
Lord Justice Girvan, Mr Justice Stephens and Mr Justice Horner were told Maguire had been advised to represent himself.
He claimed a decision was taken not to appoint new lawyers because he believed he would be “strategically better off” on his own.
According to Maguire, he was told he could say things a lawyer couldn’t, and could stop the trial at any time.
He insisted that he was untrained in the law and left overwhelmed at having to defend himself in a complex and lengthy trial.
Having heard oral evidence from Maguire’s former legal team, the court concluded that neither senior counsel nor the solicitor acted in a “proper and acceptable professional manner” during their last consultation with the defendant.
The quality of note taking was described as “lamentable”, with the judges adding that the witnesses must have had a clearer recollection of events in the unique situation than they were prepared to concede.
But Lord Justice Girvan held that Maguire was never told by his senior counsel that he would be acquitted.
He categorised the appellant as a “very determined, intelligent, shrewd, cynical and manipulative individual” who “lies when it suits him”.
Maguire was held to be sufficiently experienced to appreciate he needed every tactical advantage to escape conviction in a case where the evidence was stacked against him
“Far from being a mere victim of inappropriate legal advice and representation the applicant was a knowing participant in a scheme involving the withdrawal of counsel and self-representation which were designed to increase his chances of escaping from what appeared to him to be inevitable conviction,” Lord Justice Girvan added.
“The withdrawal of counsel and the decision by the applicant to represent himself represented the outcome of a joint strategy emerging from their joint view that there was no chance of an acquittal on the evidence and in the light of the rulings.
“There was a consensus reached between counsel and the applicant that the applicant had nothing to lose by the withdrawal of counsel and the possibility of a potentially better outcome, even if that better outcome might be brought about by reason of the trial collapsing as a result of difficulties brought about by the defendant representing himself.”
All other grounds of challenge, including the admission of bad character evidence, the emphasis placed on it, and allegedly prejudicial press coverage were also dismissed.
Following the verdict Maguire’s new solicitor, Katie McAllister of Madden and Finucane, confirmed: “We are studying the judgment and considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.”