Father-of-three guilty of murdering fiancée

David Lyness is to begin a life sentence
David Lyness is to begin a life sentence

A father-of-three from Lurgan is starting a life sentence today (Wednesday) after he was convicted of murdering his fiancée.

Anita Downey (51), a mother-of-three from Lurgan, bled to death on the floor of David Lyness’s Toberhewny Hall home in the early hours of January 20 last year from a wound to the left side of her neck which extended back to her spine and severed her jugular vein.

Anita Downey

Anita Downey

A jury of seven men and five women took under two hours to return a unanimous ‘guilty’ verdict against 52-year old Lyness, following a trial held at Belfast Crown Court.

Lyness - who always maintained Anita Downey was holding the knife which caused the fatal neck wound - showed no emotion as the foreperson of the jury convicted him of murder, while relatives of Ms Downey gasped then cried in the public gallery as the verdict was read.

Speaking after Lyness was handed a life sentence by Judge Geoffrey Miller QC, the family of Ms Downey welcomed the verdict, and said “justice has been served.”

Since his arrest, Lyness always maintained that after an evening of drinking wine, Ms Downey came at him with a knife she lifted from his kitchen. He told police that during a “frantic struggle” when he tried to disarm Ms Downey, they both ended up on the floor where he noticed blood coming from her.

It was also Lyness’s case that when he realised Ms Downey was dead, he tried to take his own life by cutting his own throat, then lay beside her cuddling her and waiting for the emergency services to arrive.

This version of events was rejected by the jury, who relied on other evidence they heard in the three-week hearing.

During the trial, the jury heard evidence from Lyness’s son. He told the jury that whilst Lyness was cutting her neck, Ms Downey turned to him and asked for help.

The son said he couldn’t understand why Ms Downey was so calm, and not crying out, whilst she was being attacked with a knife.

Lyness’s version of the fatal wound being caused accidentally was also rejected by the assistant state pathologist for Northern Ireland.

Rather, Dr Christopher Johnson said the only way a wound such as Ms Downey’s could have been caused was by “somebody taking a knife and cutting her throat with it.”

Lyness was called to give evidence earlier this week, and while he answered a handful of questions put to him by his own barrister, he then accused his own barrister of asking him to perjure himself.

Lyness then refused to answer amy further questions put to him by his own barrister - and later withdrew the instructions of his legal team.

Lyness maintained the same approach of refusing to speak under cross-examination by a Crown prosecutor, who suggested that his silence was because the version of events he gave police was “ridiculous”.

He accused Lyness of beating Ms Downey, straddling her as she was on the ground and cutting the left side of her neck with a kitchen knife he bought in TK Maxx for £6.99.

After the jury returned the guilty verdict, they were thanked by Judge Miller and told “you have conducted yourselves in an exemplary fashion”.

Judge Miller also paid tribute to Ms Downey’s loved ones for the dignity displayed during the trial, and said: “The court extends its sympathy to the family and friends of Anita Downey, who have suffered as a result of this grievous act committed by the defendant.”

The judge told Lyness that as he had been convicted of murder, there was only one sentence to pass - and that was a sentence of life imprisonment.

Judge Miller also told Lyness there will be another hearing to determine how long he will spend in prison before he is eligible to be considered for release.

Sending Lyness back to prison, the judge told the prison staff “take him down”.