Co Antrim man remanded in custody accused of murdering woman

Mother of four was attacked in March 2020 and died weeks later from injuries

The 33-year-old, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, faces four charges

The 33-year-old, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, faces four charges

 

A Co Antrim man was remanded into custody on Friday accused of murdering a woman almost two years ago.

Appearing at Lisburn Magistrates Court by video link from Magilligan Prison, the 33-year-old, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, confirmed he understood the four charges against him.

The charges are that he murdered Natasha Melendez on March 22nd, 2020, and inflicted grievous bodily harm on Ms Melendez with intent “on a date unknown in February 2020”, and two counts of causing her actual bodily harm on February 15th, 2020 and “on a date unknown in December 2019”.

Murder victim Natasha Melendez was described by the judge as ‘larger than life’
Murder victim Natasha Melendez was described by the judge as ‘larger than life’

The 32-year-old mother of four, who was originally from Venezuela, was attacked on March 22nd and died as a result of her injuries on April 1st.

Giving evidence to the court, Det Inspector Davis said he believed he could connect the alleged killer to each of the offences and said that although initially arrested and questioned in the time between the assault and Ms Melendez’s death, the Prison Service refused to release the defendant into the custody of the police for further interviews.

‘Shocking’ stance

With District Judge Rosie Watters describing the stance of the Prison Service as “shocking”, the senior detective said that due to the pandemic it was not until last week that investigators were able to conduct further interviews with the man but even then, despite the police wanting to keep him overnight, they were only allowed to hold him between 10am-5pm, over the course of three days.

He further revealed the victim’s grieving mother “has been over once or twice” but that she had found it difficult to “understand the cause of the delay”.

Throughout the pandemic any defendant who enters a custodial setting either in Maghaberry or Magilligan prison must go through a two-week isolation period as prison staff try to minimise the risk of a Covid outbreak.

Defence solicitor Ciaran Toner told the judge that his client “has been waiting for almost two years and throughout that period, he has wanted this matter dealt with”, adding that the alleged killer was “willing to have to go into isolation . . . at no stage did he say he did not want to go into isolation, it was the Prison Service who just refused to release him”.

“I think it’s shocking,” said the judge, who said she remembered the killing because the victim “was larger than life”.

“She appeared before this court for various things, nothing terribly serious,” said the judge. “I suppose I was aware that she had been found alive and had subsequently passed away . . . it’s shocking that it’s taken this length of time.”

The man was remanded into custody and the case adjourned to February 14th.