A Co Antrim heroin addict who stabbed his partner to death in front of their seven-year old daughter has been handed a minimum 12-year sentence for the “senseless” murder.
Sentencing Richard McAuley for the fatal stabbing of his partner, Mr Justice Weir told him “you have pleaded guilty to the murder of Denise Dunlop, and there is only one sentence permitted by law for that offence, namely that of life imprisonment.”
As friends and relatives of Ms Dunlop said in the public gallery at Antrim Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, 42-year old McAuley, from Townhill Road in Portglenone, was told he will serve a minimum sentence of 12 years in prison, without remission, before he can begin to be considered for release by the Paroles Commission.
The court heard that as a result of seeing her father stabbing her mother to death, the couple’s daughter suffered a “complex and traumatic experience” which will require “long term and on-going” therapeutic work.
McAuley was told by Mr Justice Weir that he had caused “enormous and permanent harm” to his daughter.
The fatal stabbing occurred in the living room of Ms Dunlop’s Centuripe Avenue home in Ballymena in the early hours of June 15 last year.
The court heard that prior to the knife attack, on the evening of Saturday June 14, Ms Dunlop (32) and McAuley had gone to her father’s house. As they made their way back home in a taxi, accompanied by Ms Dunlop’s step-mother, the taxi stopped at an off licence where alcohol was bought.
When the taxi arrived back at Centuripe Avenue, Ms Dunlop’s seven-year old daughter returned home from the babysitter’s and a decision was made to watch football on the TV.
A row between the couple then broke out - possibly over an ice cream that was given to the girl - which resulted in what Mr Justice Weir described as “mutual pushing and pulling.”
As Ms Dunlop - who at the time was drunk and had taken prescription drugs - sat on the sofa, McAuley went to the kitchen where he armed himself with a knife. He returned to the living room, where he stabbed his partner three times in the upper body in front of their daughter and Ms Dunlop’s step-mother.
A wound to her chest, which passed through her left lung and heart, proved to be the fatal injury, while she also sustained stab wounds to her right shoulder and her upper right arm.
Branding the murder as “senseless”, Mr Justice Weir told McAuley his actions had deprived a young girl of her mother. Saying the row was “fuelled by drink and drugs”, the Judge said a young woman had died in a row which was “almost unbelievable in its triviality.”
Since murdering Ms Dunlop, the court heard McAuley has made the case that he acted as he did due to provocation. However, the Judge said that while he accepted the couple’s 13-year relationship was on and off - largely due to McAuley’s suubstance abuse - there was no history of violence between the couple, and there was “no justification” for McAuley’s actions.
Mr Justice Weir told McAuley: “You are a powerfully built man of six feet one, while the deceased was a foot shorter. There was no excuse for bringing a knife in to this silly domestic dispute.
“The deceased was very drunk, and the prescription drugs she had taken would have made her intoxication worse. She was no threat to you.”
Telling McAuley that he carried out a “determined” knife attack, Mr Justice Weir said it was “entirely disproportionate” to any insult or minor injury he sustained.
The Judge also told McAuley he didn’t believe his claims that he didn’t intent to kill Ms Dunlop, and that the knife attack was carried out in front of their daughter and Mrs Dunlop “without a thought for the consequences for them.”
While the Judge also noted McAuley’s “futile” attempts of resusitation in the immediate aftermath and his subsequent expressions of remorse, he told McAuley that his guilty plea had “saved the deceased’s family the pain of listening to all the details in the course of a trial.”
Regarding McAuley himself, the court heard he has 44 previous convictions. He also murdered his partner whilst under a suspended sentence for an previous incident during which he shouted “Seig Heil” and carved satanic symbols with a knife on the front door of a property housing foreign nationals.
Mr Justice Weir said McAuley has never had a job, which was linked to McAuley’s “long term drugs abuse”, prompting him to tell the Co Antrim man “you have lived off state benefits all your adult life. They must have been generous to support your drink and drugs habit.”
Before McAuley was led from the dock, he was told by Mr Justice Weir: “You will serve a minimum term, without remission, of 12 years before you can begin to be considered for parole.”