A father-of-two, convicted of killing his wife for “abusing and degrading her”, will spend at least 20 years in prison for the “most heinous” crime.
Stephen McKinney, 45, of Strapani, Tyrone, was convicted earlier this year of murdering his wife Lou Na McKinney, 35, during a boating holiday with their two children near Devenish Island in Fermanagh County on April 13, 2017.
McKinney and Lu Na went on a three-day vacation to celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary with their two young children, which was the following month.
The couple, who had chartered a cruiser, had moored at Devenish Island in the evening, but the next day her body was pulled out of the water by a jetty.
At Belfast Crown Court on Thursday, Judge Dennis McBride McKinney jailed for life and said he must serve a minimum of 20 years before being considered for release.
Stephen McKinney (pictured), 45, of Strapani, Tyrone, has been sentenced to life in prison and judge said he must serve at least 20 years before being considered for release
Lou Na Makeni, 35 (pictured) docked on Devenish Island during a boat vacation with McKinney and their two children
The judge called the murder a “most heinous” crime, and said it was premeditated and carefully planned.
She told McKinney: “I abused, humiliated, manipulated, controlled, and finally took her life.
It was an unnecessarily cruel act. You were someone she should have been able to trust but you betrayed this situation and ended her life prematurely.
The judge focused particularly on the presence of the children that night, who she said “were not present by chance but on purpose as the defendant lightly sought to use the presence of his children to get rid of him with suspicions about the murder he intended to commit.”
She added: ‘You denied her the opportunity to see her children grow up. You left a trail of destruction in your wake.
Two young children were deprived of their mother’s love, care and support.
“As a result of your work, you have left the children without parents to care for them and their lives have been irreparably affected.”
McKinney yelled as he was led away and continued to plead his innocence.
He always maintained that his wife went overboard to secure the mooring ropes after she thought the boat had moved, when she fell into the water.
He claimed to have jumped to save her but despite his attempts she continued to ‘pull him down’.
When QC Prosecutor Richard Weir asked how Lu Na fell into the water during the trial in July, Mr. McKinney replied, “I don’t know, she just ended up in the water,” and that he jumped into the lake after her.
I was in the water looking for her, trying to keep her, I was trying to keep her awake. I grabbed her, but she came down, and tried to pull her again.
“I tried to pull her again and she came down,” he added, “and she pulled me down.”
A boat docked near Devenish Island in Northern Ireland next to a police boat in April 2017
McKinney refused to go into the witness box, but the jury also heard that the marriage was in trouble and that Luna had consulted an attorney about the divorce.
Within a month of Lu Na’s death, McKinney sold his late wife’s car for around £3,000.
The man who bought the car met McKinney at a gas station and later found affidavits of divorce printed in the glove compartment, which were handed over to the authorities.
The jury also played out each of McKinney’s emergency calls on the night his wife died.
Prosecutor Mr Weir said his tone was “unusual” and that he “had difficulty keeping his story straight” because he claimed to have seen her ride and fall from the back of the cruiser, and also claimed separately that he was grazing a “splash”.
From the side of the boat, to seeing her flight and falling from the back of the cruiser, to not seeing her, only hearing a splash and a plea for help, but not the first scream.
The jury at Dungannon Crown Court took less than two hours to reach a unanimous verdict of guilt after hearing 12 weeks of evidence.
But the judge said the killing was the culmination of coercive and controlling behavior throughout their marriage.
In a statement issued on behalf of Lu Na’s family, they thanked the judge, jury and PSNI for their work on the case.
The couple were vacationing with their two children near Devenish Island (pictured)
They said: ‘As a family, we have endured four very difficult years, and it has made us living apart from investigation and trial even more difficult.
We are grateful that Lu Na had so many people who fought for her.
The outcome of this judicial process has brought us some justice.
“It doesn’t change the fact that Lu Na was cruelly taken from us and we would never be able to see her, talk to her, or have Lu Na be a part of our family’s celebrations.”
During the brief hearing, Judge McBride also praised the investigators who worked on the case but she died before the trial began after contracting Covid-19.
Detective Director Eamonn Corrigan, of PSNI’s Principal Investigative Team, said: “My thoughts today are with Lu Na’s children and her family whose suffering and loss will live out for the rest of their lives.
“I know today’s ruling will never bring Lu Na back, but I hope this outcome brings some kind of comfort to her family.
Stephen McKinney thought he silenced Lu Na, and he didn’t – the police spoke on her behalf and found justice.