Husband charged with murdering Donegal woman allegedly subjected her to controlling behaviour

A man charged with murdering his wife allegedly subjected her to "controlling, degrading and manipulating" treatment, Belfast High Court heard.

Donegal woman Lu Na McKinney was on a boating holiday with her family in County Fermanagh in April last year when she died after entering the water at Devenish Island.

Stephen McKinney, with an address at The Flax Fields in Lifford, Co Donegal, denies murder, insisting he tried to rescue his wife.

According to BBC News, prosecutors claim Mr McKinney, originally from Strabane, had verbally abused his wife about their sex life before her death.

High Court Judge Sir Declan Morgan was also told today that the 41-year-old accused provided varying recollections of how his wife fell into the water while checking their mooring and after taking sleeping pills.

According to a pharmacology expert she could not have functioned as described due to the "hypnotic-sedative effect" of the drugs in her system.

It was further alleged that Mrs McKinney had once spoken about a case where another woman went missing from a cruise ship, and stated that if anything should happen to her, "it would be Stephen".

The court heard that after marrying in 2003, the couple moved between the Republic of Ireland and China, returning to Donegal in 2016.

BBC News is reporting that on the night his wife died, Mr McKinney said she took possibly two sleeping tablets the couple had previously purchased on the internet.

A prosecution lawyer set out how the accused told police he was later woken by Mrs McKinney standing beside him fully dressed, saying she thought the boat was moving and was going out to check the ropes.

McKinney claimed he followed his wife out onto the deck, saw her fall overboard and possibly shout for help before he jumped into the water in a bid to her.

Setting out further details of the circumstantial case against the accused, the prosecuting lawyer contended:

  • Staff at the marina told Mr McKinney to go to the office to obtain two more life jackets
    He allegedly refused to accept, being told by his wife that she did not want to go on the boat trip
  • He gave different reasons for the family trip, ranging from an Easter holiday, early wedding anniversary, surprise for the children, and celebration of a new job
  • Mr McKinney allegedly provided varying accounts of how his wife came to be in the water - both seeing her fall in, and then only hearing a splash before discovering her in the Lough
  • He had allegedly been advised to moor at a different jetty on Devenish Island
  • The court also heard that mobile phones and computers seized from Mr McKinney led to the recovery of Skype chats, sex videos and sexual images involving the defendant, his wife and other unknown individuals.

One chat from 2014 included more than 1,000 entries and took place while Mr McKinney was either separated from or living away from his family, the prosecution said.

The prosecution said they depicted him as being verbally abusive towards his wife about their sex life, blaming her for their separation and then encouraging her to take part in activities.

The prosecution barrister says: "From reading the entirety of this chat it can be said that McKinney is displaying controlling, degrading treatment toward Lu Na, and manipulating Lu Na to the extent that regardless how she answers or agrees to McKinney's request the goalposts are continually moved."

A lawyer for the defence countered that the witness evidence against his client involved "second or third-hand hearsay".

Disputing that a prima facie circumstantial case had been established against his client, he added: "The circumstances appear to consist of rumour and innuendo."

But with detectives still have to speak to the accused's children, Sir Declan confirmed McKinney would not be allowed out of custody to live close to them.

Adjourning the case, he said: "I'm minded in principle to releasing this man on bail when a suitable bail address has been found."