Neutral Citation No:  NICC 6
Judgment: approved by the Court for handing down
(subject to editorial corrections)*
"Overall the pattern of injuries to the skin surface is typical of multiple blows to the face including fists and feet."
Christopher Keenan's interviews
"I got up, assaulted Akkie too. John was hitting him, I was hitting him, I hit him about 5 or 6 punches to the head and he went down hit him a lot of kicks to the head but it was a blood bath and then I freaked out …"
"It was a bloody mess … the place soaked in blood, I'm soaked in blood, he's soaked in blood."
He said that he realised at this point he had gone too far.
"How long do you get for murder these days?"
The relevant legal principles
"… shall be such part as the court considers appropriate to satisfy the requirements of retribution and deterrence having regard to the seriousness of the offence, or of the combination of the offence and one or more offences associated with it."
"The normal starting point of 12 years …
10. Cases falling within this starting point will normally involve the killing of an adult victim, arising from a quarrel or loss of temper between two people known to each other. It will not have the characteristics referred to in paragraph 12. Exceptionally, the starting point may be reduced because of the sort of circumstances described in the next paragraph.
11. The normal starting point can be reduced because the murder is one where the offender's culpability is significantly reduced, for example, because:
(a) the case came close to the borderline between murder and manslaughter; or
(b) the offender suffered from mental disorder, or from a mental disability which lowered the degree of his criminal responsibility for the killing, although not affording a defence of diminished responsibility; or
(c) the offender was provoked (in a non-technical sense) such as by prolonged and eventually unsupportable stress; or
(d) the case involved an overreaction in self-defence; or
(e) the offence was a mercy killing.
These factors could justify a reduction to 8/9 years (equivalent to 16/18 years).
The higher starting point of 15/16 years
12. The higher starting point will apply to cases where the offender's culpability was exceptionally high or the victim was in a particularly vulnerable position. Such cases will be characterised by a feature which makes the crime especially serious, such as;
(a) the killing was `professional' or a contract killing;
(b) the killing was politically motivated;
(c) the killing was done for gain (in the course of a burglary, robbery etc);
(d) the killing was intended to defeat the ends of justice (as in the killing of a witness or a potential witness);
(e) the victim was providing a public service;
(f) the victim was a child or was otherwise vulnerable;
(g) the killing was racially aggravated;
(h) the victim was deliberately targeted because of his or her religion or sexual orientation;
(i) there was evidence of sadism, gratuitous violence or sexual maltreatment, humiliation or degradation of the victim before the killing;
(j) that extensive and/or multiple injuries were inflicted on the victim before death;
(k) the offender committed multiple murders.
Variation of the starting points
13. Whichever starting point is selected in a particular case, it may be appropriate for the trial judge to vary the starting point upwards or downwards to take account of aggravating or mitigating factors which relate to either the offence or the offender in the particular case.
14. Aggravating features relating to the offence can include;
(a) the fact that the killing was planned;
(b) the use of a firearm;
(c) arming with a weapon in advance;
(d) concealment of the body, destruction of the crime scene and/or dismemberment of the body;
(e) particularly in domestic violence cases, the fact that the murder was the combination of cruel and violent behaviour by the offender over a period of time.
15. Aggravating factors relating to the offender will include the offender's previous record and failures to respond to previous sentences, to the extent that this is relevant to culpability rather than to risk.
16. Mitigating factors relating to the offence will include –
(a) an intention to cause grievous bodily harm, rather than to kill; or
(b) spontaneity and lack of premeditation.
17. Mitigating factors relating to the offender may include –
(a) the offender's age;
(b) clear evidence of remorse or contrition;
(c) a timely plea of guilty."
The appropriate tariff
"The opinions of the victim, or the surviving members of the family, about the appropriate level of sentence do not provide any sound basis for reassessing a sentence. If the victim feels utterly merciful towards the criminal, and some do, the crime has still been committed and must be punished as it deserves. If the victim is obsessed with vengeance, which can in reality only be assuaged by a very long sentence, as also happens, the punishment cannot be made longer by the court than otherwise would be appropriate. Otherwise cases with identical features would be dealt with in widely differing ways leading to improper and unfair disparity ...
If carried to its logical conclusion, the process would end up by imposing unfair pressures on the victims of crime or the survivors of crime resulting in death, to play a part in the sentencing process which many of them would find painful and distasteful. It is very far removed from the court being kept properly informed on the anguish and suffering inflicted on the victims by the crime."
(a) A pre-sentence report from the Probation Board for Northern Ireland in respect of the defendant dated 4 May 2018.
(b) Medical reports from Dr G Loughrey FRCPsych, consultant psychiatrist dated 16 November 2017, 18 December 2017 and 21 December 2017 – obtained on behalf of the defence.
(c) Medical report from Dr Richard Bunn MRCPsych, consultant forensic psychiatrist dated 21 March 2018 – obtained on behalf of the PPS.
"It records robbery, hijacking, assaulting police, AOABH, wounding with intent and aggravated assault. It appears that despite the sanctions of the court including three previous periods of probation supervision, which were all breached due to non-compliance and further offending, Mr Keenan continues to offend in a violent and aggressive manner. Mr Keenan's offending behaviour appears driven by his egocentricity and a pro-offending attitude and lifestyle. These characteristics are primarily disinhibited through his abuse of alcohol and drugs. He appears to offend without thought for the impact on the victims. His violent offending is often disproportionate to the presenting circumstances and the vulnerability of the victim. It would appear that he has not developed the ability to respond to difficult situations in a pro-social manner. Mr Keenan has essentially spent the majority of his adolescence and early adulthood in custody. It appears that he has been unwilling to appropriately manage his life in the community. He accepts he has not been willing to draw upon the services on offer to him stating 'if I had taken the help years ago, this might have been avoided'."
"It is therefore my view that this man's alcohol dependence syndrome had reached a point where his drinking before the killing was the involuntary result of an irresistible craving for alcohol, which led to a level intoxication that substantially impaired his ability to exercise self-control."
The PBNI assess the defendant as representing a high likelihood of re-offending and, although not relevant for this sentencing exercise, someone who currently presents as a significant risk of causing serious harm.
Application of the principles
"… the sentencing framework is, as Weatherup J described it in paragraph 11 of his sentencing remarks in R v McKeown  NICC 5, a multi-tier system. Not only is the Practice Statement intended to be only guidance, but the starting points are, as the term indicates, points at which the sentencer may start on his journey towards the goal of deciding upon a right and appropriate sentence for the instant case."
What then is the appropriate reduction, if any, for the guilty plea in this case?
"We consider, therefore, that there are likely to be very few cases indeed which would be capable of attracting a discount close to one-third for a guilty plea in a murder case. The circumstances of a mercy killing for example might possibly achieve that outcome. Each case clearly needs to be considered on its own facts but it seems to us that an offender who enters a not guilty plea at the first arraignment is unlikely to receive a discount for a plea on re-arraignment greater than one-sixth and that a discount for a plea in excess of 5 years would be wholly exceptional even in the case of a substantial tariff."
"We have concluded, however, that it would be inappropriate to give any more prescriptive guidance in this area of highly fact sensitive discretionary judgement. Where, however, a discount of greater than one-sixth has been given for a plea in a murder case the judge should carefully set out the factors which justify it in such a case."