The police have delivered to the prosecution their file in relation to alleged killer Stephen McCullagh, over the murder of Natalie McNally a court heard on Friday.
A prosecutor told Craigavon Magistrates Court “there’s a positive update in terms of progress” in that the file was “delivered to the prosecution yesterday (Thursday).”
That file, she told the court, included “two large boxes of hard copy material and the CCTV,” adding that while the senior prosecutor needs time to consider the materials “she’s confident that there will be a decision in four weeks.”
Allegedly calculating killer McCullagh (33) was not produced to the Maghaberry videolink suite to hear the update in his case but as they have done at every stage the case has been mentioned, relatives of Natalie McNally sat in the public gallery listening intently.
McCullagh, from Woodland Gardens in Lisburn, is in custody accused of the murder of the 32-year-old mum-to-be on 18 December last year.
Ms McNally was 15 weeks pregnant with McCullagh’s child when she was stabbed in her home on Silverwood Green in Lurgan on 18 December and according to the police case, McCullagh was double gloved, forensically aware and had created himself a false alibi in the meticulously planned, “sophisticated, calculating and cool headed plot” to kill her.
When McCullagh was first charged in January, a prosecuting lawyer described how “every moment had been carefully thought through and it’s only due to painstaking police work and sophisticated cyber evidence that he hasn’t got away with it.”
McCullagh had been arrested immediately after Natalie’s body was discovered but was de-arrested as a suspect when police found a six hour YouTube video which McCullagh broadcast on the night of the murder.
It transpired however that video, showing McCullagh playing Grand Theft Auto, had been pre-recorded a week before and the police believe he intentionally used that as a fake alibi.
Describing the investigation as “complex,” DCI Magennis told the court that according to the police case the alleged killer, carrying a “distinctive” Asda bag for life, took a bus from Dunmurry to Lurgan, all the while taking “careful” steps to conceal his face using a hood and scarf.
He said the quality of the CCTV on the bus was excellent and from that, he claimed that a black rucksack could be seen inside the Asda bag and also that the suspect was wearing two pairs of gloves.
The senior detective also outlined that throughout the 90 minute journey, the man sits “motionless, except to check his face is covered,” including when he “awkwardly” takes a drink from a bottle of Coke.
Getting off the bus at the stop closest to the victim’s house, the bag carrying, masked man then walks to Ms McNally’s house where he spent 40 minutes and after “completely changing his clothes,” he took a taxi to Lisburn and was dropped close to McCullagh’s house.
Conceding that only the man’s nose was visible, the DCI said the quality of the CCTV from the bus was of such a standard police believed facility mapping experts can use it and claimed further that the gait, stride and build of the man in the CCTV, before and after the stabbing, is the same.
DCI Magennis said the taxi driver had shown police where he dropped the fare and while he wasn’t familiar with Lisburn, the GPRS in his taxi confirmed the location.
The officer said while McCullagh’s phone couldn’t be used to put him at the scene, the device showed “absolutely no activity whatsoever” from 6pm until it was “swiped open” at 11:16pm, which was just three minutes after the taxi dropped its fare nearby.
“That’s strange behaviour in itself,” said the cop, “that there’s no movement or activity for five hours at a significant time.”
Turning to the YouTube broadcast, DCI Magennis said that on the day of the murder McCullagh told his 37,000 followers he would be broadcasting live that evening but that he was “having trouble with his set up” so while he would be streaming, he would not be interacting with viewers’ comments.
It was this video, he told the court, which had initially provided McCullagh “an alibi for the time that she was attacked and murdered” and was the reason McCullagh’s status changed from suspect to witness.
Even when he was downgraded, and with cops urging him to help as he was the only person who had first-hand experience of the murder scene as he had discovered Natalie’s body, McCullagh refused to co-operate with investigators, the court heard.
The investigation also revealed that a week before he was re-arrested and ultimately charged, McCullagh had left his phone at the home of Natalie’s parents, leaving it surreptitiously on record for 40 minutes as, according to the officer, he tried to ascertain details about the investigation and whether they believed he was a suspect.
McCullagh was upgraded back to suspect status after “highly trained experts in cyber-crime,” along with the NCA, ascertained the YouTube stream had actually been pre-recorded.
Arrested and questioned as a suspect, McCullagh admitted he had recorded the streaming video five days before the murder but claimed that on the night Natalie was stabbed to death, he had been drinking and fell asleep.
He did also admit, the court heard, that someone came to his house at the same time the taxi dropped its fare nearby and he “proffered a few names” as to who it might have been.
In court on Friday, District Judge Bernie Kelly granted McCullagh’s continuing remand in prison and adjourned the case to 6 October “for decision.”
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