A man convicted of possessing the gun used to shoot journalist Lyra McKee wants to challenge any “misconception” about whether he was involved in the murder, a court has heard.
Niall Sheerin, 29, pleaded guilty earlier this year to possessing a handgun and ammunition with intent to allow another person to endanger their life.
The gun used to kill the perpetrator – a Hammerli X-Esse .22 pistol – was found wrapped in plastic bags in a cavity behind a telegraph pole in a field in Londonderry’s Ballymagroarty area in 2020. bullets and a spent ammo magazine uncovered in the package.
Ballistic tests showed the gun had been used in five city shootings in the previous 21 months, including the murder of Ms. McKee on April 18, 2019.
The 29-year-old was shot dead while observing riots in the Creggan area of Derry.
The dissident republican organization that calls itself the New IRA has admitted responsibility for his murder.
DNA linked to Sheerin was found on the weapon.
The defendant, of Tyrconnell Street in Derry, appeared before a judge in Belfast on Friday for a sentencing hearing.
Outlining the mitigating factors, defense attorney Kieran Mallon QC clarified that Sheerin was unaware of how the weapon was used before storing it for a “short period of time”.
Mr. Mallon said the prosecution did not claim Sheerin played a role in the events surrounding Ms. McKee’s shooting.
“I point this out on his behalf because he is anxious that there is no misunderstanding or in terms of perception that he had any role to play in the events certainly related to April 18, 2019,” he said.
“His guilt lies in his possession or in storing or storing the firearm for a short period of time. We ask the court to accept it as its guilt ”.
The lawyer said the defendant is the father of three young children who had achieved the role of manager at a bookmaker shop in Derry.
He said his family is likely to suffer hardship due to his imminent prison sentence, although he acknowledged that personal circumstances would not be an important factor in the court’s determination of mitigation.
Mr. Mallon also noted that his client should receive credit for pleading guilty, although he acknowledged that this was a relatively late stage of the judicial process.
A prosecution attorney outlined the five incidents in which the gun was used.
In addition to Ms. McKee’s shooting amidst orchestrated riots in Creggan, she was also shot in four paramilitary-style attacks on men in Derry between September 2018 and March 2019.
The attorney said Sheerin was aware he was storing a gun on behalf of the New IRA.
He said that if a crime has a proven link to terrorism, this should be seen as an aggravating circumstance when the sentence is enforced.
“As a resident of Derry, the defendant would have been aware of the New IRA’s activity in this area and would have been aware that the organization carried out firearm attacks, including punitive shootings in the local area, as well as the murder of Lyra McKee for which the New IRA has publicly accepted responsibility, “the lawyer said.
However, the Crown Attorney added: “It is accepted that the prosecution cannot establish with the required standards that the defendant would have been aware of the specific history of this particular firearm.”
The lawyer said Sheerin had 15 previous convictions for crimes including rebellious behavior, criminal damage and assaulting the police.
“In many of these incidents he made sectarian or anti-police comments towards the police,” he added.
“On one occasion, when he was 17, he shouted ‘the dissidents’, on another when he was 18 he said to the police ‘I hope they all shoot you'”.
At the end of the judgment hearing, Judge Stephen Fowler said he wanted to take some time to consider the points raised by the legal representatives.
He told the court that he would sentence Sheerin at 10 am on Wednesday, September 14.