A Lurgan man who posted a “grossly offensive” animated image of murder victim Natalie McNally under a public Facebook appeal to help find her killer says he did it to “lighten the mood”, a court heard today.
Kian Withers, of James Street, who appeared before Craigavon Crown Court on Tuesday, will be sentenced on Friday on a single count of committing an act outraging public decency.
The 22-year-old was arrested after police received a complaint from Ms McNally’s cousin regarding a Facebook comment from an account named ‘John John’.
This comment had been shared under a Cool FM post, which was a police appeal seeking help from members of the public in identifying a male in a CCTV clip, as they tried to track down the Lurgan woman’s killer.
The image posted was created on an app which used the publicly available image of Ms McNally in her graduation gown. It was animated and appeared to sing to the tune of James Brown’s ‘I got you (I feel good)’.
It had been shared on three different Facebook posts between December 23 -28, 2022. Ms McNally was murdered on December 18.
Prosecutor, Nicola Auret, stated that she had the clip on her laptop but suggested the judge view it in his chambers as it was “grossly offensive”.
Ms Auret continued: “Several members of the public berated the defendant for the post but he didn’t take it down.”
Withers was subsequently identified by police and arrested. During police interview he made full admissions to creating the image and posting it online to the Cool FM and News sports site.
Said Ms Auret: “He maintained that his intent was to try and lighten the mood around the murder of the deceased, not to cause upset, however he now realised how his actions may have caused distress.
“He told police that he was different to other people with a different sense of humour and had no social skills and he expressed regret for his actions.”
Defending, Ian Turkington, said he was asked, by his client, to express how “sorry he was for causing distress to the family and friends of the deceased”.
Mr Turkington said his submissions would centre on how “damaged and disabled Mr Withers is and how he presents before this court because it’s only to understand his vulnerability can one understand how he could be so foolish to post the image that was posted”.
Withers was described as a young man who “lives a solitary life with no close relationships”, and is someone “incapable of independent living, yet socially isolated”, adding that he had suffered “prolonged serious, physical and emotional abuse as a child at the hands of his father”.
He contended that Withers “left school at 14 [and] was mercilessly bullied at school”.
The court also heard that the defendant has been diagnosed with an emotionally unstable personality disorder and that he was suffering from “deteriorating mental health at the time of the offending”.
Mr Turkington said his client’s medication “was altered just before this incident” and that he hadn’t been taking it.
A doctor’s report described Withers “as a disabled young man [who has] effectively developed a life of virtual living”.
Mr Turkington described the doctor’s report as a “powerful report for a young man with a harrowing background”.
He added: “He genuinely believed, quite incredibly, that what he was doing was lightening the mood…his brain just doesn’t work the same as other people.”
His Honour, Patrick Lynch KC, adjourned sentencing until Friday so he can consider a lengthy doctor’s report. Withers was released on continuing bail until then.