THREE men jailed for the sectarian killing of Catholic schoolboy Michael McIlveen have had their murder convictions quashed on Wednesday.
The Court of Appeal ruled that guilty verdicts against Aaron Wallace, Christopher Kerr and Jeff Lewis for killing Michael McIlveen were unsafe.
It said this was due to flaws in how the jury was directed.
The Public Prosecution Service must now decide by Friday whether it is to seek a retrial. Mr McIlveen was chased and beaten in Ballymena in May 2006.
During the hearing, the Court of Appeal was told that a jury that found three men guilty of the sectarian murder of the Catholic schoolboy was misdirected.
Defence lawyers claimed the panel received flawed guidance on dealing with evidence at their trial for the killing of Michael McIlveen.
The 15-year-old was beaten and kicked to death in Ballymena, Co Antrim in May 2006.
Life sentences were later handed down to four men for the murder by trial judge Mr Justice Seamus Treacy.
Aaron Cavana Wallace, 23, formerly of Moat Road, Christopher Francis Kerr, 25, from Carnduff Drive, and Jeff Colin Lewis, 22, of Rossdale, all in Ballymena, were given minimum terms ranging from 10 to 13 years.
A fourth man, Mervyn Wilson Moon, 23, of Douglas Terrace in the town, had admitted the killing at the start of the trial.
Kerr received the highest minimum tariff after he was assessed as showing no remorse for his actions and having lied consistently.
He had accepted being among a group of youths who chased the victim on the night of the attack.
Kerr, who was the only defendant to give evidence at trial, also accepted retrieving the murder weapon, a baseball bat, but denied using it.
He claimed he did not participate in the assault nor encourage anyone else.
Opening Kerr’s appeal, Frank O’Donoghue QC argued that the trial judge failed to put a succinct, structured and impartial summary of his client’s case during his summing up to the jury.
He also claimed the judge fundamentally misdirected the panel on how they should deal with Kerr’s claims.
“He invited the jury not to rely on his evidence in any circumstances in the absence of supportive evidence,” Mr O’Donoghue told the court.
In a further criticism, the barrister claimed jurors were not properly directed that what Kerr’s co-accused said during police interview was not evidence against him.
The court heard about a phone call to Kerr and Wallace in the aftermath of the attack.
Kerr is alleged to have told a witness “Michael fell on my feet a couple of times”.
According to Mr O’Donoghue his client was being sarcastic in making the remark and still maintains he did not kick the teenager at any stage.
“The judge failed to caution the jury effectively that while what Wallace said may have been important evidence in the assessment of the case against Wallace, it was not evidence against the applicant Kerr,” he argued.
“The jury were left with this comment and could well have taken it into account in going about their task of interpreting the evidence of what Kerr meant by what he said in the phone call.
“Wallace’s interpretation at interview was irrelevant to that issue.”
The hearing continues.