While Kian Withers claimed he posted the video of the recently murdered mum-to-be to “lighten the mood,” Judge Patrick Lynch KC warned that “those who skulk in the safety of their own home and disseminate offensive material must realise the abhorrence that engenders in the public.”
Ordering the 22-year-old to serve three months in jail and nine months under licence, the Craigavon Crown Court judge warned that “the message must go out from the courts that this behaviour will not be tolerated and those who perpetrate such offences will face sentences of imprisonment.”
At an earlier hearing, Withers, from James Street, admitted a single count of committing an act outraging public decency between 22-29 December last year.
Rehearsing the facts of the Crown case today (Friday), Judge Lynch outlined how police received a complaint from Ms McNally’s cousin regarding a Facebook comment from an account named ‘John John’.
The ten second video, showing murder victim Ms McNally in her graduation gown, seemingly singing the James Brown hit ‘I feel good’, had been shared on the Cool FM social media Facebook pages as detectives appealed for help in identifying a male from a CCTV clip as they tried to track down the killer.
The witness had given a statement where she told police the video had caused “deep distress and hurt” and she was “horrified and very shaken” by it.
“I can’t understand why someone would want to post such a horrible thing at such a difficult time for the family,” she told police.
Withers was “rapidly identified as the perpetrator of this outrageous” material and after he was arrested and cautioned, he told police “I thought it would be funny.”
During police interviews, he claimed he had been scrolling through social media and had spotted an app which could animate still images so using Natalie’s graduation photo, he used the app to put the James Brown soundtrack to it because “I thought it might lighten the mood.”
Claiming that he did not intend to cause any upset, Withers told police, “I’m just different – I’m a one man band.”
Judge Lynch told the court he had received defence medical reports which evidenced that Withers had endured an unsettled upbringing, had been bullied and expelled from school, lived in a dozen foster homes and suffered from emotionally unstable personality disorder for which he took medication.
At the time he posted the videos Withers had stopped taking his medication as they “made him feel numb” but the judge said he doubted whether the defendant had as little insight as he claimed to have.
Judge Lynch highlighted a passage in the police interview where Withers told police “I think people are too oversensitive to things like this” but he also accepted that the family would find the video upsetting.
The court also heard that officers asked how he would feel if it was a video about his own mother, he conceded: “I would be furious.”
The judge said while the defence had “expressed an unreserved apology and regret” for the hurt and distress, “the defendant had little option but to plead guilty.”
If he had fought the case and been convicted, Withers would have been handed a 16 month sentence, said the judge, adding that allowing for a discount for his guilty plea, the just sentence was 12 months.
Instead of the usual 50/50 split between custody and licence, Judge Lynch ordered that Withers would spend nine months on licence as “I believe that a more extended period of time on licence is necessary and desirable for the defendant to understand and address his problems through the assistance of probation.”