Court latest: Bodybuilder to be sentenced before Christmas

A bodybuilder said to have put his own life in danger trying to save a drowning man he had earlier chased and assaulted, will be sentenced for the unlawful killing before Christmas.

Friday, 5th December 2014, 8:17 am

Antrim Crown Court heard on Thursday that 26-year-old Darren Joseph Casey stripped off and jumped into the River Bann in an attempt to save 21-year-old Ballymena man Owen Gerard McKeown after they had had a fight on May 5, 2012.

Prosecuting QC Terence Mooney told Judge Gordon Kerr QC while it was accepted Casey did not intend Mr McKeown’s death, by his unlawful act of striking him, and his guilty plea to manslaughter, he accepted responsibilty for his death.

Defence QC Martin O’Rourke said it was a tragic and unfortunate case, in which a remorseful Casey had put his own life in danger.

Mr O’Rourke said Casey accepted his assault on Mr McKeown went beyond self-defence, giving rise to the unlawful act leading to his death.

Adjourning the case, Judge Kerr said he wished to fully consider all of the evidence and would sentence Casey, from Claragh Hill Grange, Kilrea in just over a fortnight.

Earlier Mr Mooney said that Mr McKeown, who’d travelled to Kilrea from his Dunclug Estate home in Ballymena with two others, collected Casey, before going to the River Bann near the Agivey Road, Patterson’s Lane area, a well known drinking spot for young men.

However, the court heard they were not there for drink, but to collect steroid drugs which both Casey and McKeown used as part of their body-building regime. As they were climbing over a fence, Mr McKeown allegedly struck out at Casey who punched him to the ground, where he continued his attack.

Mr Mooney said a group of canoeists heard wind-blown voices coming from the river bank, and initially thought they might come under attack, but then saw a fully clothed man jump into the river.

“He swam out from the bank, and then disappeared under the water. Another male then striped off his clothing and also entered the water in an apparent attempt to rescue the first male,” said Mr Mooney.

Unable to save Mr McKeown, Casey returned to the bank, dressed and left the area in a red car.”

However, before his rescue attempt Casey was heard telling Mr McKeown to get ‘back to the river bank, that he had ‘proved his point’ and that he should ‘stop being a d-ckhead’.’

Mr Mooney said the canoeists had watched as Mr McKeown appeared to ‘tread water before turning on his back and disappearing. Casey called for help to persons up the hill before removing his clothing andswimming to the place where Mr McKeown was last seen and ducked under the water.

“When he resurfaced, he called out, ‘he’s gone, we’ve lost him’,” added the lawyer.

A post mortem report on Mr McKeown, whose cause of death was drowning, also indicated that he may well have been under the influence of drugs at the time.

“By his plea the defendant accepted that he is responsible for the death of Owen McKeown,” said counsel. “It may be inferred that his behaviour caused such fear in the deceased that he believed the only course of escape from the defendant was to go into the river. It must also be accepted that the defendant did not intend the death of Mr McKeown.”

In his defence Mr O’Rourke said that Casey’s version of events could be independently corroriborated by statement from two men who had travelled from Ballymena with Mr McKeown.

“They indicated that as Casey was climbing over a fence to get the steroid drugs, the deceased, for no apparent reason, struck him and he responded. McKeown was knocked to the ground, where Casey continued with the assault.

“That response was in excess of defending himself, which constitutes, and gives rise to the unlawful act in this case,” added the lawyer.

Mr O’Rourke also indicated that none of the canoeists reported Casey’s calls as being threatening to Mr McKeown when he was in the river, and were ‘in terms to get him back out of the water.’

The defence lawyer said Casey had followed Mr McKeown into the river, ‘in an attempt to redeem the situation and put his own life at risk in an attempt to save him.’

Casey, he added, had shown genuine, sincere and deep remorse, and had later gone with his father to police, ‘to do the right thing’, and was so extremely upset at the death of Mr McKeown, could not be properly interviewed and was admitted to Holywell Hospital for a time.

Mr O’Rourke said there were a number of mitigating factors, including Casey’s guilty plea, and that when he followed him into the river, his ‘actions were spontaneous and in response of the actions taken by the deceased.’