Two men have admitted manslaughter almost four years after the killing of Christopher Meli in west Belfast, but his heartbroken parents say the guilty pleas “make no difference”.
The 20-year-old was beaten to death in an area of Twinbrook known as Doc’s Lane, on the evening of 12 December 2015, following a series of violent altercations.
Three men originally from west Belfast – 20-year-old Caolan Laverty, 22-year-old Stephen McCann and 22-year-old Lee Smyth – were all charged with and denied murdering Mr Meli.
They were due to stand trial next week.
- VIDEO: UTV's Sara O'Kane reports from outside court
However, they all appeared at Belfast Crown Court on Friday and barrister for Laverty and Smyth asked that the murder charge be put to them again.
Laverty, when asked how he pleaded, replied: “Not guilty to murder – guilty to manslaughter.”
The 20-year-old, with an address at Belfast Road in Glenavy, also pleaded guilty to a charge of assaulting Stephen Woods and occasioning him actual bodily harm.
When the same charge was put to Smyth, he also replied: “Not guilty to murder – guilty to manslaughter.”
Smyth, with an address care of HMP Maghaberry, also pleaded guilty to two counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and of fighting and making an affray on the night in question.
McCann, with an address at Dundrinne Road in Castlewellan, pleaded guilty to a charge of affray.
A prosecution barrister told Mr Justice Colton that Laverty and Smyth’s pleas to manslaughter “are acceptable to the prosecution”.
Regarding McCann, the barrister said the murder charge against him was to be “left on the books in the usual terms” and that it will not be proceeded with.
He added that, in light of the pleas, it “means that a trial is no longer required in this case”.
- VIDEO: The parents of Christopher Meli speak to UTV
Five other co-accused have already entered pleas to various charges arising from a series of incidents and altercations which culminated in the death of Mr Meli.
Mr Justice Colton branded the case “complex”.
However, he said that he wanted to sentence as soon as possible as he was “conscious of the defendants, and the parents of the victim”.
Sentencing has been listed to take place on Thursday 19 December.
McCann was released, while Smyth was remanded back into custody.
Laverty’s barrister asked that his client be granted continuing bail ahead of sentencing.
“There are a lot of matters that he needs to attend to. He has a full-time job and a young child. There are a lot of matters for him to tie up,” the barrister said.
The judge granted bail pending sentencing.