TWO sectarian thugs who admitted their part in the bigoted murder of a teenage schoolboy seven years ago have been ordered to spend at least 17 years behind bars between them.
Imposing a minimum nine-year life sentence tariff on 26-year-old Christopher Francis Kerr and a minimum eight-year tariff on Aaron Cavana Wallace, 25, at Belfast Crown Court, judge Mr Justice Weatherup told them he was distinguishing between them as Kerr had obtained the baseball bat which was used to batter 15-year-old Michael ‘Mickey Bo’ McIveen to death in May 2006.
The man who used the bat to such lethal effect, Mervyn Wilson Moon, 25, from Douglas Terrace, Ballymena, is serving a minimum 10-year tariff after he pleaded guilty before his trial began four years ago.
While the pair were handed nine and eight-year terms respectively, Kerr could apply to be released in just two years and Wallace in three-and-a-half years due to time they have already spend on custody for the murder.
Last month at their trial Kerr, from Carnduff Drive, and Wallace, from the Moat Road, both Ballymena, pleaded guilty to murdering the schoolboy. It was the second time they had been convicted of the killing as in May 2009 both Kerr and Wallace were jailed for life after a jury convicted them of the schoolboy’s murder but the Court of Appeal quashed those convictions and ordered a retrial.
They pleaded guilty after lawyers agreed a statement of facts in relation to the roles Wallace and Kerr played in the death. Outlining this facts, prosecuting QC Liam McCollum recounted how Michael and two other Catholic friends had gone to the area of the leisure centre in Ballymena where a crowd of Protestant youths including Moon, Kerr, Wallace and others had gathered drinking. Comments were exchanged before Michael left the area but the Protestants chased him.
Mr McCollum said it was accepted that Kerr had broken off from that chasing group to collect the baseball bat. Moon, the court heard, took the bat from Kerr and “immediately” hit Michael over the head with it.
Kerr and Wallace had pleaded guilty to murder on the basis that they were “secondary parties” to the killing but accepted they had participated in the assault when Michael was kicked as he lay on the ground.
The lawyer said Michael managed to stagger away but when he got home it was clear to his family that he was gravely ill so he was rushed to hospital but despite being immediately put onto a life support machine, tragically died from his head injuries.
During his sentencing remarks Mr Justice Weatherup said it had been “particularly tragic” case.
“This young man was 15 when he died as a result of this sectarian attack,” he said.
“This was a tragedy for the McIlveen family,” continued the judge, revealing that within her “measured and impressive” victim impact statement, Gina McIlveen recounted that she found it “extremely difficult” to cope with her son’s death without knowing exactly how it happened or for those involved to have expressed remorse.
Having commented that Friday was the first time either Wallace or Kerr had expressed remorse, Mr Justice Weatherup said he hoped their expressions and the agreed set of facts would help to give her and her family from closure for the future.
Outside the court members of the McIlveen family declined to comment on the day’s proceedings.
Aaron Wallace’s defence QC Arthur Harvey said his guilty plea to murder, immaterial of the consequences for himself, showed a “full acceptance that no matter what part he played, he has been involved in an attack that lead to the death of another human being and that damage is irrepairable”.
The McIlveen family however did not hear the lawyer say that as earlier, they had stormed from the court when Wallace’s stepfather Samuel Greer gave evidence and turning in the witness box he told them: “Just to say to the McIlveen family here today we are truly sorry.
“We pray for the family. We only believe that God can heal the hurt but it can’t take away the memories of a child.”
Defence QC Frank O’Donoghue said of Christopher Kerr that unlike the youth who stood before the first hearing, “the swagger and arrogance that characterised his behaviour … has gone a long time ago to be replaced by a man who finds himself in a very difficult situation”.
“This case is a sorry lesson as to what can happen if young people involve themselves in behaviour of that type and a sorry lesson for those in society who are responsible for allowing such an environment to presist,” declared the lawyer. *