Belfast Crown Court: Murderer must serve a minimum of 16 years and six months
A man who pleaded guilty to the murder of a retired teacher in Crumlin in 2018 must serve a minimum sentence of 16 years and six months before being considered for release on licence.
Commenting that the victim was “a man who lived a blameless and worthy life”, Mr Justice Adrian Colton said the mitigating factors in this case were “hard to find”.
On 28 January 2018, the police received a report expressing concern for the safety of Robert Flowerday, a 64-year-old retired teacher who lived in Crumlin. Upon entering his home, the police found Mr Flowerday’s body in an armchair.
Mr Flowerday had defensive injuries to his hands and arms, and a post-mortem report concluded that he had been subjected to “a sustained assault that was concentrated to his head and neck and that the brain injuries were sufficient to have caused his death”.
On 29 January 2018, a man informed the police that he had been speaking to Michael Gerard Owens the previous afternoon, who had said he intended to burgle Mr Flowerday’s house. The Court heard that Mr Owens then drank a bottle of wine and placed a bag over his head as a “makeshift balaclava”. The same man phoned Mr Owens at about 6pm but was told “I am doing a job, leave me alone”. Later that evening, Mr Owens told him he thought he had killed Mr Flowerday using a hatchet.
At around 10.45pm on 28 January 2018, another witness gave evidence that he met Mr Owens in Crumlin village, that Mr Owens appeared dirty and had a cut to his hand, and that Mr Owens told him he was “going to the river” to dump his clothes.
Mr Owens was arrested on the evening of 29 January 2018, and gave a “no comment” police interview.
Evidence placing Mr Owens at the scene included a belt recovered from his home which had Mr Flowerday’s blood on it, fingernail scrapings yielding Mr Flowerday’s DNA, and the “makeshift balaclava” recovered at Mr Flowerday’s house with Mr Owens’ DNA in the “mouth” area.
At arraignment, Mr Owens pleaded not guilty. However, in October 2019, Mr Owens asked to be re-arraigned and pleaded guilty “well in advance of his trial” listed for January 2020.
In Belfast Crown Court, Mr Justice Colton said of Mr Flowerday: “The picture that emerges is of a man who lived a blameless and worthy life. He was someone who made a valuable contribution to the community which is understandably shocked and appalled at his brutal death.”
In determining the minimum term to be served by Mr Owens, Mr Justice Colton referred to reports which described Mr Owens’ lifestyle as one which had become characterised by excessive consumption of alcohol and misuse of illegal drugs. On the day of the murder, Mr Owens had entered Mr Flowerday’s house intending to steal money, but that the burglary escalated into a vicious assault as Mr Flowerday sought to protect his property and defend himself. After murdering Mr Flowerday, Mr Owens moved his body from the front porch to the living room.
Identifying a starting point range of 15 to 16 years, Mr Justice Colton said:
“The offender’s culpability was exceptionally high. The murder was done in the course of a burglary. I consider that the victim was vulnerable. There was evidence that gratuitous violence was used during the course of the murder which was committed using multiple weapons including a hammer and a hatchet. As a result extensive and multiple injuries were inflicted on the deceased before death”.
Considering aggravating factors, Mr Justice Colton noted that Mr Owens had disposed of his clothing after the murder, and took steps to conceal Mr Flowerday’s body.
Commenting that mitigating factors were difficult to find, Mr Justice Colton noted that Mr Owens had “given a very full and harrowing account of his actions in the pre-sentence report and that such a frank and fulsome account is rare”. Allowing a “small allowance” in mitigation for this, Mr Justice Colton said: “In truth the only true mitigation is the fact that the defendant has pleaded guilty”.
Prior to consideration of the discount for a plea, Mr Justice Colton said the appropriate tariff would be one of 20 years’ imprisonment.
Discount for guilty plea
Citing R v Turner and Turner  NICA 52, Mr Justice Colton noted the guidance that offenders who enter not guilty pleas at their first arraignment normally do not receive a discount for plea on re-arraignment greater than one-sixth.
In this case, Mr Justice Colton accepted that Mr Owens plea was “timely”:
“Whilst it was not at the first opportunity, [the defendant] applied to be re-arraigned well in advance of his trial. That plea reinforces the remorse he has expressed and the very full account he has given of his conduct in the reports I have considered. As against that it must be borne in mind that the defendant gave a “no comment” interview, exercised his right to compel the main prosecution witness to give evidence and to be cross-examined at committal and pleaded not guilty on arraignment, notwithstanding that the initial date for arraignment was adjourned.”
In those circumstances, Mr Justice Colton said that Mr Owens was entitled to a discount of one-sixth, reducing the sentence to one of 16-and-a-half years’ imprisonment. Mr Justice Colton imposed a concurrent sentence of two years’ imprisonment for burglary with intent.
© Irish Legal News Ltd 2020