A 23-year old man has been convicted of the manslaughter of his friend in what was described as “one-punch” incident at a County Down beach.
Darren O’Neill, 22, died in hospital after being punched by Joseph Dorrian, of Lakeview, Crumlin, County Antrim, at Tyrella beach in June 2019.
Dorrian claimed he was acting in self-defence when he struck Mr O’Neill.
However, the prosecution said it was an “unnecessary, unjustified, unlawful act” and a blow struck “in anger”.
Mr O’Neill died two days after the friends got into a fight at Tyrella.
It took the jury three hours to come to a unanimous verdict.
The judge at Downpatrick Crown Court told Dorrian that while he was releasing him on continuing bail, he “must expect an immediate custodial sentence”.
The week-long trial heard the two had got into an argument after Mr O’Neill took his father’s brand new car and, according to witnesses, began “raking it about” and “doing hand-break turns and driving at speed”.
When he came back, Dorrian slapped him and Mr O’Neill hit him back, the court heard.
One of their female friends, who tried to intervene, was pushed away by Mr O’Neill, who called on Dorrian, “come on, hit me”.
Dorrian struck Mr O’Neill’s jaw with his right fist causing him to fall.
He got up but then collapsed to the ground again.
Despite attempts to revive him, during which CPR was carried out, he was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast where he died.
Assistant State Pathologist Dr Christopher Johnson said his death was due to blunt trauma to the head which tore an internal artery, causing a bleed on the brain and a cardiac arrest.
Mr O’Neill also had a fractured bone in his neck, which Dr Johnson said showed “there must have been some element of force behind this punch”.
Dorrian said he had not intended to hurt his best friend.
“The day was meant to be a fun day at the beach,” he said.
He said he had “panicked” when initially questioned about what happened, and denied changing his story to “sugar coat and underplay” his actions.
He denied losing his temper at Mr McNeill’s “rough’ driving,” rejecting prosecution claims that he was “absolutely furious” with Mr O’Neill.
Dorrian accepted that they had exchanged words and, at one stage, had squared up to one and other before he “noticed a change in his [Mr O’Neill’s] body language”.
“I said to him: ‘What are you going to do Darren, hit me?’ and he swung a dig and I pulled my head back the ways,” he claimed.
Dorrian said this blow glanced off his shoulder and hit his chin.
He said then he had “just reacted”.
“I was frightened of receiving more punches and I wanted it to stop. I pushed my hand out in reasonable force to give him the indication to stop,” he said.
He also denied “dumping” his first account and “reconstructing” a version which better suited his claims of self-defence, as he’d “goaded” his friend into fighting when Mr O’Neill was “in a physically vulnerable state and unfit to fight” due to his intoxicated state.
“The bottom line,” suggested the prosecution, was that Dorrian “just couldn’t resist, and you let him have it,” describing this blow to the jaw as “unnecessary and unwarranted”.
He added: “Unfortunately, for you and more unfortunately for Mr O’Neill, you caused his death.”
Dorrian will be sentenced in March once probation and other reports on him are completed, along with victim impact statements from the family of Mr O’Neill.