‘Misunderstanding’ led to murder plea, Court of Appeal hears

A barman who pleaded guilty to murdering boxer Eamonn Magee Jr thought he was only making admissions to manslaughter, the Court of Appeal heard on Thursday.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 24th March 2022, 4:36 pm
Orhan Koca arrives at Craigavon Court in June 2015. 
Photo: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Orhan Koca arrives at Craigavon Court in June 2015. Photo: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

Orhan Koca, 39, mistakenly believed the confession formed part of a deal to secure a 10-year prison sentence for the fatal stabbing in west Belfast, judges were told.

The Turkish national is seeking to overturn his murder conviction, based on an alleged misunderstanding of the legal process and his limited grasp of English.

Koca is currently serving a minimum 14-year jail term for killing his estranged wife’s new boyfriend in May 2015.

Mr Magee, 22, was stabbed six times during the attack at Summerhill Park in the Twinbrook area of the city.

Koca had been motivated by jealousy when he armed himself and went to his former family home with an intent to kill the engineering student and personal trainer, previous courts heard.

His ex-partner had started a new relationship with Mr Magee after they met at a gym where he worked.

The young boxer also hoped to follow in the footsteps of his father – former welterweight champion Eamonn Magee Sr.

Koca initially denied the killing, claiming he had panicked and lunged at what he believed to be a house intruder with garden shears.

Following his guilty plea the trial judge declared that it had been “a premeditated and planned murder which was both brutal and sustained”.

Challenging the murder conviction, defence counsel Kevin Magill told the Court of Appeal his client was assessed as having “limited cognitive and intellectual functioning”.

Concerns were also expressed about his ability to understand the trial process due to English being his second language, it was submitted.

Mr Magill argued that Koca wrongly thought at the time that he had been offered a deal.

“It is his instructions that he understood he was pleading guilty to the manslaughter of Mr Magee, and he continued to believe that would precipitate a sentence of 10 years because that is what he had consistently understood to have been discussed,” the barrister said.

Judges were told Koca remains adamant that he would never have pleaded guilty to murder if he had properly understood the situation.

“At the heart of this appeal is a defendant who did not understand the processes, and entered an equivocal plea, and it therefore does not matter whether the self-defence argument would have succeeded or not,” Mr Magill added.

“He was entitled to have been allowed to make that defence, to run the case before a jury, and he was deprived of that because he did not understand, he would say, the process.”

Reserving judgment in the case, Lord Justice McCloskey pledged to give a ruling early next month.