A father-of-two found guilty of murdering his wife he ‘abused and degraded’ will serve at least 20 years in prison for ‘the most heinous’ crime.
Stephen McKinney, 45, from Strabane, Tyrone, was convicted earlier this year of murdering his wife Lu Na McKinney, 35, during a boating holiday with their two children near Devenish Island in County Fermanagh on April 13, 2017.
McKinney and Lu Na had gone on the three-day holiday to celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary with their young children, which was the following month.
The couple, who had hired a cruiser, had moored on Devenish Island for the evening, but the next day her body was recovered from the water beside a jetty.
At Belfast Crown Court on Thursday, Justice Denise McBride jailed McKinney for life and said he should serve a minimum term of 20 years before being considered for release.
Stephen McKinney (pictured), 45, from Strabane, Tyrone, was jailed for life and the judge said he should serve a minimum term of 20 years before being considered for release
Lu Na McKinney, 35, (pictured) had moored on Devenish Island during a boating holiday with McKinney and their two children
The judge called the murder ‘the most heinous’ crime and said it had been premeditated and carefully planned.
She told McKinney: ‘You abused, degraded her and manipulated and controlled her and finally you took away her life.
‘It was such a needless and cruel action. You were someone that she should have been able to trust but you betrayed that position and you ended her life prematurely.’
The judge focused in particular on the presence of the children that night, who she said were ‘not present by accident but design as the defendant sought cynically to use his children’s presence to throw suspicion away from him for the murder he intended to commit’.
She added: ‘You denied her the opportunity of seeing her children grow up. You have left a trail of destruction in your wake.
‘Two young children have been deprived of their mother’s love, care and support.
‘As a result of your action you have left the children without parents to care for them and their lives have been irreparably adversely affected.’
McKinney shouted as he was led away and continued to plead his innocence.
He has always maintained that his wife had fallen into the water and he had tried to save her.
When Prosecutor QC Richard Weir asked how Lu Na fell into the water during the trial earlier this year, Mr. McKinney replied: ‘I don’t know, she just ended up in the water’, and that he jumped into the lough after her.
‘I was in the water looking for her, trying to, I was trying to keep her, I was trying to keep her up. I got hold of her, but she went down, and I tried to pull her back up.
‘I tried to pull her back up and she went down,’ then he added: ‘And she pulled me down’.
A boat is moored next to Devenish Island in Northern Ireland next to a police boat in April 2017
But the judge said the murder was the culmination of coercive, controlling behaviour throughout their marriage.
In a statement issued on behalf of Lu Na’s family, they thanked the judge, the jury and the PSNI for their work on the case.
They said: ‘As a family, we have endured four very difficult years, made more difficult living so far away from the investigation and trial.
‘We are thankful that Lu Na had so many people fighting for her.
‘The outcome of this court process has brought us some justice.
‘It does not change the fact that Lu Na was so cruelly taken from us and we will never be able to see her, talk to her or for Lu Na to be part of our family celebrations.’
The couple had been holiday with their two children near Devenish Island (pictured)
During the short hearing, Justice McBride also paid tribute to a female detective who had worked on the case but had died before the trial commenced after contracting Covid-19.
Detective Superintendent Eamon Corrigan, from the PSNI’s major investigations team, said: ‘Today my thoughts are very much with Lu Na’s children and her family whose suffering and loss will live with them for the rest of their lives.
‘I know today’s sentencing will never bring Lu Na back, however I hope this outcome brings some sort of comfort to her family.
‘Stephen McKinney thought he had silenced Lu Na, he hadn’t – police spoke for her and found justice.’