Man discovers prison term for ‘senseless and frenzied’ murder

Police and forensic officers at the murder scene in Broombeg View, Ballycastle. Anthony McErlane was murdered. Pic Steven McAuley/McAuley Multimedia
Police and forensic officers at the murder scene in Broombeg View, Ballycastle. Anthony McErlane was murdered. Pic Steven McAuley/McAuley Multimedia

A Co Antrim man must serve a minimum of 12 years in jail without parole for what a judge described as a “senseless, vicious, sustained and frenzied” murder.

Christopher Keenan (36), of Broombeg View, Ballycastle, pleaded guilty in March to the murder of labourer Anthony McErlane in Ballycastle more than two years ago and is currently serving a mandatory life sentence.

Giving his tariff ruling on Friday at Antrim Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, Mr Justice Colton said the family of Mr McErlane - his six brothers, four sisters and his father - had given “eloquent” victim impact statements which had outlined in detail their “personal grief” at his death.

He was described as “well read” and was a “much loved and much missed brother, father and grandfather”.

The judge said that although the defendant had expressed remorse for the murder, Mr McErlane’s family “do not believe he has demonstrated remorse”.

Mr Justice Colton told the hearing that “no matter what sentence the court imposed it would never reconcile the family of Mr McErlane to their loss or cure their anguish’’.

The prosecution had told a tariff hearing last week that Mr McErlane had died as a result of “gratuitous and extensive Violence” in a drunken fight during which he sustained over 40 injuries.

Defence counsel John McCrudden QC said Christopher Keenan “regrets and completely apologises for what he did” but accepted his apology “may not be well received” by the victim’s family.

He argued that Keenan should be given considerable credit for his guilty plea given that he had made admissions at police interview.

“In fact, the police officer had little time to put his boots on when Mr Keenan gave a full account of his role in the incident,” said the defence QC.

In a pre-sentence report, the court heard Christopher Keenan told a probation officer that the fight “got out of hand quickly. It should have stopped when he (Mr McErlane) went to the ground.”

He added: “He did not deserve such a death. It was a disaster. I have committed the worst deed possible.”

John Keenan had also been charged with Mr McErlane’s murder but the court had previously ruled that based on the evidence presented by the prosecution, he had “no case to answer”.

Mr Justice Colton said today that he was giving Christopher Keenan a 25 per cent reduction in his tariff for his guilty plea.

“He must serve 12 years before he can be considered for release on licence by the Parole Commissioners. He could, however, be recalled to prison if he breaches the terms of that licence,” added the judge.