Mother asks for lenient sentence for son’s killer

James McDonagh, 28, from Castledawson died in January 2016
James McDonagh, 28, from Castledawson died in January 2016

The mother of a Castledawson man who died following a ‘one punch’ incident outside a bar has called for leniency over the sentence handed to her son’s killer.

James McDonagh died from injuries sustained by falling backwards and hitting his head off the ground after he was punched once by Finbar McCoy Junior in Toome in January 10, 2016.

The 28-year old member of the Travelling community never regained consciousness, and after being rushed to hospital, he later died.

James’ mother Roseanne McDonagh, described losing her son as “like having my heart ripped out” but also said she “didn’t care” if McCoy went to prison, as the family were more concerned about him accepting responsibility.

Londonderry Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, heard from Mrs McDonagh as McCoy (26), from Tamlaghduff Road in Bellaghy, was due to sentenced for the manslaughter of her son in January 2016.

Last year McCoy stood trial, with a jury returning a hung verdict. He was due to go on trial for a second time, however earlier this month he changed his plea and admitted unlawfully killing the other man.

During Friday’s hearing, trial judge Mrs Justice Keegan was told McCoy’s plea came as he didn’t want to put either Mr McDonagh’s family or his own through the ordeal of a second trial. She is due to sentence McCoy next week.

The judge heard about the “devastating” impact Mr McDonagh’s death has had on his family, with Crown prosecutor Ciaran Murphy QC saying his grieving mother had acted with extreme dignity and compassion.

Revealing she described losing her son to having her heart ripped out, the prosecutor added Mrs McDonagh said: “When we were in court, I felt sorry for Finbar’s mother, father and his family.

“I don’t care if Finbar sees the inside of a prison. We just wanted recognition for what he done - causing Jim’s death.”

Regarding punishment, Mrs McDonagh reiterated her sympathy for McCoy’s parents, and said it would be “an awful thing to see your child go to jail”.

When McCoy was arrested - initially for murder - he made no reply. He later made the case that having left the bar, he had returned after being told his parents and sister had been assaulted.

He also accused Mr McDonagh of taunting him and looking for a fight. McCoy always admitted punching the deceased once in the face, and later stated, “I cannot bring words together to say how sorry I am. I feel so sorry for family, but I did not murder James McDonagh.”

After a hung jury at the last trial, McCoy admitted manslaughter last month, and has been in custody since.

Defence barrister Eilish MacDermott QC said it was in the forefront of McCoy’s mind that “a young man has lost his life”.

Saying her client has recognised the suffering of the McDonagh family, Ms MacDermott said both families will be dealing with the consequences of that night for the rest of their lives.

The barrister said McCoy was a hard-working man from a happy and stable background, and who - up until January 2016 - was a model citizen who led a structured life.

After listening to submissions, Mrs Justice Keegan said she wanted time to reflect on matters. She scheduled sentencing to take place on Friday, February 16, and McCoy was remanded back into custody.