A Co Armagh man due to go on trial for murder today (Monday) admitted manslaughter.
Gary Magee was due to go on trial today at Craigavon Crown Court, accused of the murder of Andrew James Thompson and arson with intent to endanger life, but defence KC Gregory Berry asked for the charges to be put to the 44-year-old again.
Standing in the dock alongside his solicitor, Magee continued to deny the offences but told the court he was pleading “guilty to manslaughter” and “guilty to arson being reckless whether life was endangered”.
As Magee entered his 11th hour dock confession, the grieving family of his victim maintained a dignified silence in the public gallery of the court.
Prosecuting KC, Liam McCollum, confirmed to trial judge, Madam Justice McBride, “those pleas are acceptable to the prosecution” and she told the senior barrister that, having read the papers and statements, “I approve the acceptance of the lesser charges, it seems to be a sensible approach that has been adopted and I’m sure that the views of the family have been taken into account”.
While none of the facts were opened today, previous courts heard that while the victim, 62-year-old Jimmy Thompson, was found lying dead on a bed at his Parkview home, in the Cloghogue area on the outskirts of Newry, Magee was rescued “lying unconscious at the back door” in the kitchen.
Magee, who lived a few doors away in Parkview, had suffered a burn to his hand and forensic enquires at the scene found that both front and back doors were locked, there had been no forced entry and there were three separate seats of fire in the bungalow – one in the living room, one in the front bedroom and one in the rear bedroom.
During a failed application for bail in November 2021, Detective Sergeant Hawthorne told the court according to the expert reports, each of the fires had been started deliberately by “direct ignition of combustible material”.
They were further of the view, said the detective, they were likely to have been started in the half hour before the emergency services were called at 11.40pm.
During questioning, Magee told police he had been drinking wine with Mr Thompson and that he could remember details up to 11pm but nothing after that, with his next recollection waking up in the Royal Victoria Hospital.
However, he refused to account for a burn on his hand or expand on his claim that he injured his hand the day before Mr Thompson’s death, even when officers put to him that “it couldn’t be worse than murder”.
In court today, Mr Berry asked for sentencing to be adjourned to allow time for a pre-sentence probation report to be prepared and remanding Magee back into custody, Judge McBride said she would deal with the case on November 29.