Joe Joyce pictured outside the court in Belfast last month.

Moate man found guilty of murder

A 32-year-old Moate native has been found guilty of the murder of an 18-year-old in Enniskillen in 2020.

A jury on Monday found Joe Joyce guilty of the murder of John Paul McDonagh during a street fight in the Fermanagh town, rejecting his claim that he had acted in self-defence.

After Mr Justice Rooney imposed a mandatory life sentence, Mr Joyce's wife Ellen screamed as her husband was taken into custody.

The victim, eighteen-year-old John Paul McDonagh, suffered a fatal injury inflicted by a scythe, which was also variously referred to in court as a bill hook and a slash hook, and, despite the efforts of police and paramedics, passed away in hospital.

Following a three-week trial at Dungannon Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, Mr Joyce who is originally from Moate but had been bailed to reside at an address at Abercorn Road, Derry, was also convicted of wounding the victim’s brother, Gerard Christopher McDonagh, possessing a scythe and a bottle of ammonia as offensive weapons, and engaging in affray

The court heard the incident occurred in the Coolcullen Meadows area of Enniskillen at around 8pm on April 11, 2020.

At the time the McDonagh family were having a barbecue on their garden which backed onto Joyce's property.

They were playing loud music and words were exchanged over the garden fence, which led to three McDonagh brothers making their way to Mr Joyce's street to confront him.

What followed quickly became "a full-scale, on-street battle" during which Mr Joyce struck Mr McDonagh to the rear of his leg with the scythe.

CCTV footage captured the moment Joyce swung the scythe at Mr McDonagh, who initially managed to limp from the brawl, before collapsing in the arms of his sister-in-law, Caroline McDonagh.

Ms McDonagh gave evidence that he put his head on her chest and said, "I'm gone" before he slipped unconscious.

Mr McDonagh's mother told the trial that her son had been murdered in front of her, while a neighbour described the scene as "pandemonium".

The blow had severed the vital femoral artery causing significant and rapid blood loss, and when police arrived at the scene Mr McDonagh had became unresponsive.

Officers attempted to staunch the flow of blood and carried out CPR until paramedics took over.

When stabilised, Mr McDonagh was rushed to hospital critically ill, where he suffered three cardiac arrests while undergoing emergency treatment.

A doctor involved in his care confirmed the extent of the injury led to profuse blood loss. Initially the intention was to transfer him to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast but this was abandoned due to his very unstable condition.

Instead, a decision was taken to amputate the badly injured leg in the hope it would save Mr McDonagh's life.

However the extent of blood loss and subsequent cardiac arrests resulted in widespread damage and his internal organs began to fail.

Tragically, he continued to deteriorate and passed away two days after the incident.

Mr Joyce was arrested and, during interview, insisted that he had acted in self-defence and that there was no intention to murder or injure anyone.

His defence maintained this continued to be Joyce's position through the trial, which heard from investigating police, neighbours, the victim's relatives and others who directly witnessed the attack.

A witness gave evidence on behalf of the defence, saying the McDonaghs were "coming down to do damage" when the incident occurred.

"Joe was on the back foot. They were aggressive and didn't come down to shake Joe’s hand or talk to him sensibly.

"They were swinging (the weapons) at full extension trying to hit Joe. They swung first. They were gunning for Joe," the witness said.

"John (the victim) swung at Joe and then it sort of calmed down. John started talking to Joe who ended up hitting him. John was swinging the hoe. He wasn't trying to hit a fly. It was how you'd swing a sledge to knock down a wall."

The witness described the victim swinging out again at Joyce who "clipped" him around the ankle, causing him to stumble, but said, "They came back to do Joe damage again, and he had to protect himself again."

Addressing the jury, counsel for the defence, Desmond Fahy QC, stated: "This was not a fight. What sort of fight lines up three men armed with lethal weapons on one side and a man, a pregnant woman and children on the other? This was a brutal and determined attack on Joe Joyce."

Stating that the McDonaghs had allegedly threatened to burn down Joyce's house with him and his family inside, Mr Fahy said: "The fight and terror were brought to him. There is no evidence he invited this so-called fight or provoked this so-called fight.

"He had to act quickly to defend himself, his family and his home. Everything my client did was defensive. This is as complete a case of self-defence you are ever likely to hear… My client was in mortal fear."

Mr Fahy also stated that Mr Joyce told police he was "sincerely sorry for John Paul McDonagh's death and the loss his family have suffered," but that he was "genuinely terrified for his own life" at the time.

It also emerged that, ahead of the trial, police attended Mr Joyce's home in 2019 to advise him information had been received that he was under threat.

This came on the back of an anonymous phone call by a person claiming to have overheard a discussion at a Traveller site which referenced "wiping out" Mr Joyce.

The police officer told the court Mr Joyce didn't know who the threat could have emanated from as he, "hadn't fallen out with anyone recently," but nonetheless he decided to install CCTV cameras around his home.

In summing up the case, Prosecution Counsel Barra McGrory QC insisted Mr Joyce, "made certain choices which were wrong and unlawful … He was not taken by surprise nor left with no other option (than to) arm himself with the lethally sharp scythe … He had no business bringing out on the street in the first place."

Mr McGrory told the jury that Mr Joyce, "fought like a gladiator, swinging his scythe at the McDonaghs. There is no issue on the facts that Joyce caused the death of John Paul, and we say that his only intention was to seriously wound him."

Defence counsel Desmond Fahy QC argued that Mr Joyce believed he and his family were under immediate threat of attack and his actions were entirely to protect them and himself.

However, after deliberation for slightly over three hours, the jury returned unanimous guilty verdicts on all counts on Monday.

Mr Justice Rooney told Mr Joyce that the only penalty for murder was mandatory life imprisonment.

He was ordered into immediate custody, at which point his wife Ellen dropped to hear knees, screaming, "My Joe didn't mean it. It wasn't meant to happen. God knows that. My children and I need Joe."

A hearing to decide the minimum tariff to be served will take place in due course.