Man (34) sentenced to life for double murder in Belfast

Jury sworn in and trial due to start but then one of the two accused pleaded guilty

Mr Justice Weir said: ‘You have pleaded guilty to two counts of murder. There is only one sentence permitted by law for the offence of murder and that is the sentence of life imprisonment, and I impose on you the sentence of life imprisonment on these two counts.’ Photograph: Graham Hughes/Photocall Ireland

Mr Justice Weir said: ‘You have pleaded guilty to two counts of murder. There is only one sentence permitted by law for the offence of murder and that is the sentence of life imprisonment, and I impose on you the sentence of life imprisonment on these two counts.’ Photograph: Graham Hughes/Photocall Ireland

 

A 34-year old man was sentenced to life on Tuesday after admitting the murder of a man and woman in east Belfast.

The bodies of friends Caron Smyth (40) and Finbar McGrillen (42) were discovered in the living room of Mr McGrillen’s apartment in the Ravenhill Court area of east Belfast on December 13th 2013.

Two men from Belfast – Shaun Patrick Joseph Hegarty (34) and Ciaran Nugent (33) – were charged with murdering Ms Smyth and Mr McGrillen.

Both men initially denied the charges and a jury was sworn in at Belfast Crown Court on Tuesday morning. The pair were due to be tried together and the case was to start on Wednesday.

However, at the request of Hegarty’s barrister Frank O’Donoghoe QC, the 34-year old – formerly of Grainne House in the New Lodge area of north Belfast but whose address was given as HMP Maghaberry – was re-arraigned on both charges on Tuesday afternoon.

When the charge of murdering Ms Smyth was put to Hegarty, he replied “guilty”. He entered the same plea when he was charged with murdering Mr McGrillen.

After he admitted the double murder, Hegarty was told by Mr Justice Weir: “You have pleaded guilty to two counts of murder. There is only one sentence permitted by law for the offence of murder and that is the sentence of life imprisonment, and I impose on you the sentence of life imprisonment on these two counts.”

Hegarty was also informed by Mr Justice Weir that the minimum sentence he will have to serve before being considered eligible for release from prison will be set at the conclusion of the trial involving co-accused Ciaran Nugent.

Following the re-arraignment, Hegarty was remanded back into custody.

Mr Nugent, who is formerly from the Simon Community on the Falls Road in the west of the city, has denied murdering Ms Smyth and Mr McGrillen.

A jury of five men and seven women were sworn in earlier on Tuesday and were informed by Mr Justice Weir that they should be available throughout June.

Mr Nugent – who is on remand in Maghaberry – is due to appear in the dock on Wednesday for the start of his double murder trial.