'You thought you'd silenced her': Man who spun lie his wife slipped from jetty jailed for her murder

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A man who tried to claim his wife had accidentally slipped and fallen off a jetty on their holiday as their children slept aboard a boat nearby has been jailed for her murder

A judge jailed Stephen McKinney, 45, for at least 20 years for his “most heinous” plot to orchestrate and then attempt to cover-up Lu Na McKinney's death.

The couple had gone on a boating holiday in the Fermanagh Lakelands, Northern Ireland, with their two children when Lu Na disappeared.

Her body was recovered from Lough Erne beside a jetty in 2017, close to where the couple had moored on Devenish Island during a boating holiday with their children.

Prosecutors told the court McKinney had concocted a story claiming Lu Na had slipped and fallen into the water after she had gone out to check on mooring ropes.

As McKinley was led away to begin his 20-year prison sentence, he was heard to repeatedly protest his innocence.

McKinney, originally from Strabane in County Tyrone, was found guilty of the April 2017 murder earlier this year.

Following his sentencing on Thursday, Public Prosecution Service Assistant Director, Lynne Carlin, said: “Stephen McKinney carefully planned and carried out his wife Lu Na’s murder on the first night of a family boating trip in Fermanagh in April 2017.

“He lied to police repeatedly, concocting a story that Lu Na had slipped and fallen into the water after she had gone out to check the mooring ropes were secure."

She continued: “Every murder causes great distress and pain. This case, in which McKinney murdered his wife as their two young children slept aboard the boat, is particularly disturbing.

“Today our thoughts are with Lu Na’s family, particularly her two children. While nothing will bring Lu Na back, I hope that this guilty verdict will bring some comfort to them as they continue to try and cope with this devastating loss.”

The couple had been living in Donegal prior to the murder.

At Belfast Crown Court on Thursday, Justice Denise McBride jailed McKinney for life and said he should serve a minimum term of 20 years before being considered for release.

The judge called the murder “the most heinous” crime and said it had been premeditated and carefully planned.

She told McKinney: “You abused, degraded her and manipulated and controlled her and finally you took away her life.

“It was such a needless and cruel action. You were someone that she should have been able to trust but you betrayed that position and you ended her life prematurely.”

The judge focused in particular on the presence of the children that night, who she said were “not present by accident but design as the defendant sought cynically to use his children’s presence to throw suspicion away from him for the murder he intended to commit”.

She added: “You denied her the opportunity of seeing her children grow up.

“You have left a trail of destruction in your wake.

“Two young children have been deprived of their mother’s love, care and support.

“As a result of your action you have left the children without parents to care for them and their lives have been irreparably adversely affected.”

McKinney shouted as he was led away and continued to plead his innocence.

He has always maintained that his wife had fallen into the water and he had tried to save her.

But the judge said the murder was the culmination of coercive, controlling behaviour throughout their marriage.

In a statement issued on behalf of Lu Na’s family, they thanked the judge, the jury and the PSNI for their work on the case.

They said: “As a family, we have endured four very difficult years, made more difficult living so far away from the investigation and trial.

“We are thankful that Lu Na had so many people fighting for her.

“The outcome of this court process has brought us some justice.

“It does not change the fact that Lu Na was so cruelly taken from us and we will never be able to see her, talk to her or for Lu Na to be part of our family celebrations.”

During the short hearing, Justice McBride also paid tribute to a female detective who had worked on the case but had died before the trial commenced after contracting Covid..

Detective Superintendent Eamon Corrigan, from the PSNI’s major investigations team, said: “Today my thoughts are very much with Lu Na’s children and her family whose suffering and loss will live with them for the rest of their lives.

“I know today’s sentencing will never bring Lu Na back, however I hope this outcome brings some sort of comfort to her family.

“Stephen McKinney thought he had silenced Lu Na, he hadn’t – police spoke for her and found justice.”

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