Shock in court as murder accused pleads guilty on first day of trial
Published 24/05/2016 | 22:08
A man dramatically pleaded guilty on Tuesday to the murder of Kyle Neil over a year ago during a "frenzied'' knife attack in Co Down.
Wesley Harry Vance (27), formerly of Church Gate Studios in Comber, was due to stand trial of murdering Mr Neil following a party at his flat.
A jury of six men and six women were sworn in on Monday but had not been formally put in charge of the defendant.
But this afternoon at Downpatrick Crown Court, his defence QC John McCrudden asked trial judge Mr Justice Colton for "Mr Vance to be re-arraigned on the first count''.
Addressing the defendant standing in the dock of the court, the clerk said: "On application of your counsel and with permission of his Lordship I have to re-arraign you on the first count on the bill of indictment of murder contrary to Common Law, that you, on April 12, 2015, murdered Kyle Neil. How say you plead. Guilty or nor guilty?''
Vance replied: "Guilty.''
There were gasps from the public gallery and members of Mr Neil's family openly wept at his change of plea to guilty after previously denying the murder charge claiming he had acted in self defence.
Mr Justice Colton told Vance: "Now that you have pleaded guilty to murder, the mandatory sentence that I must impose is one of a life sentence.''
As he was being led to away in handcuffs to the cells below, his friends in the public gallery shouted: 'Keep your head up son. Keep your head up. See you soon.''
Friends of Mr Neil called out "murderer'' and "scumbag'' as he was being returned to the court cells.
Mr Justice Colton immediately intervened, warning that if there was any further outbursts he would "clear the court''.
He added that if people wanted to remain in the public gallery "then please be quiet''.
The trial judge ordered the preparation of a pre-sentence report ahead of sentencing.
McCrudden QC said that a number of reports and documents would be prepared "well in advance of sentencing''.
Mr Justice Colton said that a tariff hearing on how long Vance will spend in prison without parole will take place on Tuesday, June 27 at Belfast Crown Court.
Prosecuting counsel Liam McCollum Qc said the trial of Vance's co-accused Stephane Boyd would still proceed.
The 26-year-old of Russell Court in south Belfast denies two charges of assisting offenders by allegedly driving the Fiesta car with Mr Neil's body in the boot from Mill Street, Comber to Windsor Road in Belfast on April 12, 2015 and driving the car at the time with excess alcohol.
It is alleged Mr Neil (23), who was living in Bangor, Co Down at the time but was originally from the Ballysillan area of north Belfast, sustained multiple knife wounds in the attack which was described by police at the time as "frenzied''.
His remains were allegedly then placed in the boot of a Ford Fiesta car which was found abandoned in Windsor Road, south Belfast in the early hours of April 12, 2015.
Mr McCollum QC said today that following Vance's guilty plea to murder, the trial of Todd would now be "substantially shorter''.
The jury, who were not present during this afternoon's re-arraignment proceedings, will return tomorrow morning when they will be formally put in charge of Stephanie Todd on her trial.