Former motocross ace given suspended sentence for part in melee

Jason McGovern who was found dead at a house in Monaghan following a night out in Omagh

Jason McGovern who was found dead at a house in Monaghan following a night out in Omagh

Former Co Tyrone motorcross ace Mark Donnelly - recently acquitted of the one-punch killing of Monaghan teenager Jason McGovern - was today given a suspended sentence for involvement in a previous melee in which the victim’s friend was assaulted.

It can be reported for the first time is that Donnelly’s 25-year-old partner Aisling McAleer, along with four Tyrone men, have already been sentenced and freed for their parts arising out of the tragic events of that 2012 New Years’ Eve.

Mr McGovern (19) was found dead in the Emyvale home of a friend in the Monaghan village of Mullan hours after being floored by a single punch in the Omagh carpark of the Weigh Inn.

A post mortem later revealed he had a fractured skull and died from resulting bleeding on the brain.

On Friday Donnelly, convicted at his first full trial of having “fought and made an affray” was given, a four month prison sentence, suspended for a year, for his involvement in the first incident.

It was during this initial 21-second fracas outside the Terrace Bar in Omagh’s John Street at around 3am that Jason’s friend Liam Williams had his jaw fractured.

Lady Justice Keegan said that despite his initial reluctance to talk to Probation about what happened on that fateful evening, the 24-year-old Greencastle man subsequently revealed that prior to the melee, he had planned to go to a fast food outlet with his partner before getting a taxi home.

He said he then saw an incident in the street, went over to the crowd and spoke to a friend. Donnelly also told Probation that as the melee was taking place, he raised his left arm but didn’t physically strike anyone. He also said he could offer no explanation for his actions, and wouldn’t have acted the way he did had he not been drinking.

Further, Donnelly said he then stood back from the “massive row” on the street before leaving the scene to try and find his cousin. He then returned to join his partner and got a taxi home, unaware of the gravity of events.

Lady Justice Keegan told Belfast Crown Court that in the four years since the incident, Donnelly has “expressed an appreciation of the seriousness” of what occurred, especially regarding the impact Mr McGovern’s death has had on his family.

He also told probation that Mr McGovern’s family have not got justice as no-one has been held accountable for his death.

During today’s sentencing, Lady Justice Keegan said “this was an unsavoury incident undoubtedly fuelled by alcohol”.

Regarding the offence of affray for which Donnelly was found guilty, Lady Justice Keegan branded the incident as “spontaneous”, adding there was no physical evidence there was any contact made by Donnelly.

The Judge also said she accepted Donnelly’s remorse and regret at his involvement, saying that since the incident he has “matured and reflected on what has happened.”

At an earlier hearing, Donnelly’s barrister Elis McDermott QC said that the loss of young Jason’s life “is something that has not left him since and will not leave him for the rest of his life, and that will remain also for his family”.

Ms McDermott added it was “frightening” how easily it was for a young man to be die in such circumstances, in an environment were alcohol was taken to excess. However, it was also right to say had it not been for that tragic event, the matter would most likely have been dealt with in the magistrates’ court.

The lawyer, who handed in a “sheath of references”, said Donnelly’s involvement had been peripheral. There was also no evidence there was any contact between him or any of the other parties involved, and no distinction should be drawn between him and his former co-accused.

Donnelly had faced three juries accused of the manslaughter of the 19-year-old Co Monaghan man, before finally in June, a fourth jury was directed by Lady Keegan to acquit him after the prosecution offered no evidence against him.

In September last year, Donnelly’s partner, originally from Aghaboy Road, near Greencastle, was given a suspended sentence for peverting the course of public justice. She admitted providing him with an alibi, claiming he never left her sight that evening.

Freed a year earlier in September 2014, were four others, who had pleaded guilty to involvement in the 21-second CCTV captured affray in which Jason’s friend Liam Williams had his jaw broken.

Among those involved was 22-year-old Aaron Bradley, from Waterworks Road, Omagh, who was also once accused with Jason’s manslaughter. That unlawful killing charge was thrown out by Judge Gemma Loughran seven months earlier in March 2014.

When freeing Bradley and the others, Judge Loughran, declared had matters ended with the affray, “then I tend to agree with the view that this incident was little different from those that have become par for the course, drunken anti-social behaviour of an objectionable kind.”

The Dungannon Crown Court judge had initially threatened to jail him for a total of four months, but the defence challenged that as being excessively punitive and successfully argued the sentence be suspended for three years.

Bradley, 19 at the time, and described as one of the north’s most gifted young amateur boxing coaches, had said his lawyer, “blotted his copy-book”. However he added that Bradley had also expressed genuine and heartfelt contrition, remorse and shame.

Counsel, who handed in 11 references referring to his intigrity, and a good well-educated young man, described his involvement as a “typical alcohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour” in response. It was Bradley’s punch which fractured Mr William’s jaw. It was thrown in response to him allegedly being spat upon.

Also 19 at the time was Aaron Davis, whose four-month jail term was also suspended for three years for his 13- second involvement in the melee. His involvement was described as peripheral, during which he did not punch anyone and was not personally involved in physical fighting.

His lawyer said Davis, of Beattie Villas, Edenderry, who had seven previous convictions, including a conditional discharge for GBH, had also expressed “sincere and heartfelt remorse”.

The oldest to be sentenced was 21-year-old James O’Brien, whose guilty plea, it was said, was indicative of his remorse. A young man of good character, references from his priest, teachers and local businessmen were given to the court.

Initially Judge Loughran was mindful of jailing O’Brien from Rylagh Road, outside Omagh, for four months. However, she agreed to suspended the term for three years after being told his involvement was peripheral, and he had no direct contact with young Jason.

The youngest to be sentenced at the time of the fracas was 17-year-old Liam Chism. He had just left school. His lawyer said that he was highly intoxicated and “what he got involved in that night was out of character.”

Chism, of Knockloughan, he said, had expressed deep and genuine regret at getting involved. Judge Loughran, who order him to carry out 50 hours community service, said he was a youth at the time, but indicated his determination to learn from his ghastly mistake.