A 43-year-old man found guilty of murdering his wife during boat trip to celebrate 14th wedding anniversary.

Events began to unfold when Stephen McKinney, aged 43 of Castletown Square, Fintona, Co. Tyrone, originally from Strabane made a 999 call on 13 April 2017 at 01:15am stating his wife Lu Na McKinney had fallen into the water.

Mr McKinney had hired a boat in Devenish Island, Lough Erne for a family break. It was here Mrs McKinney’s body was retrieved from the water and pronounced dead after a CPR attempt by emergency services.

A post-mortem result found that Mrs McKinney had died as a result of drowning and she had Zopiclone, a drug for insomnia, in her blood which was above the therapeutic level.

As Mr McKinney was the only eye -witness present the Crown case against him was circumstantial. Mr McKinney denied any involvement in his wife’s death and that it was a tragic accident.

The trial took place in Dungannon Crown Court on 26 February 2020 presided over by Trial Judge Madame Justice McBride.

Mr McKinney pleaded not guilty to murdering his wife but Prosecuting Counsel Richard Weir. QC said, “When you hear all of the evidence you would find that this was no tragic accident and you will be sure Stephen McKinney killed his wife”.

The court obtained evidence that Mrs McKinney had previously attended a solicitor on 11 November 2016 with a letter setting out the difficulties in her marriage and heard evidence from friends about Mr McKinney’s coercive controlling behaviour. 

Mr Weir said: “Ms McKinney had been incapacitated after taking the sleeping drug Zopiclone, which was obtained online by her husband.” The expert stated that the only way a person in this state can be awoken is by partial awakening or external stimuli.

He continued: “Mr McKinney gave conflicting accounts to police, authorities, family and friends as to how she came to be in the lough.”

First Prosecution witness, Police Constable John Stone said, ““I shouted at him twice, asking where has she gone in?”. He said: “I got no reply from him”.

The Police Constable said, “Mr McKinney was pacing about to and fro in the cabin and kept asking – ‘where’s Lu Na’.  He  said: “Mr McKinney was very calm.”

After hearing all the evidence the jury found the defendant guilty of the offence of murder which indicated the jury clearly rejected his version of events that her death was a tragic accident.

The judge said, ““Stephen McKinney you have been found guilty of the most heinous crime. You have treated your wife throughout the marriage with disrespect. You abused, degraded her and manipulated and controlled her and finally you took away her life. It was carefully planned and ruthlessly executed and carried out when Lu Na was entirely defenceless.”

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

On 21 July 2021, the court imposed a sentence of life imprisonment, serving a minimum of 20 years.