A retired schoolteacher murdered in his Co Antrim home was subjected to a prolonged and savage attack with a poker, axe and claw hammer, a court heard on Friday.
Belfast Crown Court heard that Robert Flowerday was “an exemplary human being” who made a “lifelong contribution to society”.
Michael Gerard Owens, from Lisburn Road in Glenavy, admitted murdering Mr Flowerday and has already been handed a life sentence.
The 35-year-old was in court for a sentence hearing, with Mr Justice Colton saying he will tell Owens next month how long he will have to spend in prison before he is considered eligible for release.
The court heard that after breaking into the victim’s Mill Road home in Crumlin on January 27 last year, Owens attacked the 64-year-old with an array of weapons.
It was also revealed that Owens - who used a plastic bag as a makeshift balaclava - received a call during the fatal incident. The caller could hear sobbing in the background.
Prosecuting barrister David McDowell QC said Mr Flowerday sustained a multitude of significant wounds, including 18 separate lacerations to his scalp, face and neck.
His jaw and nose were broken, his skull was fractured in five different places, and there were extensive wounds to his hands, wrists and arms.
At around 9.20pm on January 28 last year, the parents of a student Mr Flowerday called police after he failed to turn up for a tutoring session.
The parents went to Mr Flowerday’s home, where they saw a male in the property. They knocked the door, no-one answered, and when police arrived at 9.50pm, they discovered Mr Flowerday’s partially clothed body sitting in an armchair covered by a duvet and cushions.
Found at the scene were an axe, poker and claw-hammer, and a subsequent post mortem concluded Mr Flowerday had been subjected to a “sustained assault that was concentrated to his head and neck” which resulted in fatal brain injuries.
The post mortem also stated “the majority of the lacerations to the scalp had a linear profile, indicating multiple forceful blows with a weapon ... such as an axe or hatchet”.
Mr McDowell said that the day after the murder, police were approached by a man, who told them he had met with Owens the afternoon before in Crumlin Glen car park.
This man told police Owens appeared drunk, that he told him to was going to Mr Flowerday’s house to burgle it. The man watched Owen drink a bottle of wine before placing a plastic bag over his head as a makeshift balaclava and walking off in the direction of Mr Flowerday’s home.
When he rang Owens around 6pm, he heard sobbing in the background and Owens told him to “f*** off”.
Owens was next seen in Crumlin at 10.45pm that night. He bought a Chinese and got a lift home with a man who noted Owen appeared dirty and had a cut to his hand.
The two men saw a helicopter, and when Owens was jokingly asked if it was for him, Owens replied ‘not this time but would you put is past me.”
Owens also told the motorist ‘I’m just going to the river to dump these clothes’ and got out of the car.
Revealing the clothes Owen wore during the murder “have never been found”, Mr McDowell said Owens had a further conversation with the man he met in the car park earlier that day.
When the man asked Owens what had happened at Mr Flowerday’s house, Owens told him: “I think I killed him. I used a hatchet.”
He was arrested the following day and answered ‘no comment’ to all questions. His DNA was found on a plastic bag at the murder scene and also under Mr Flowerday’s fingernails.
Mr McDowell spoke of “gratuitous violence”, noted the multiple blood-stained weapons used and said the attack was “entirely unprovoked.”
Defence barrister John McCrudden QC spoke of the regard with which Mr Flowerday was held in the community, and said: “He was a good man, he was a decent man. He made a lifelong contribution to society, to the local community and the local church.
“He was an exemplary human being and the loss of Mr Flowerday is all the greater for that.”
Mr McCrudden said Owen had acknowledged his actions, and that he committed an “unspeakable, atrocious attack on this decent, innocent, well-intentioned man on the sanctity of his own home”.
The barrister said Owens was a man with mental health issues who at the time was abusing alcohol and cocaine.
The barrister said Owens’ mental health worsened following a traumatic incident within his family.
He added that in a pre-sentence report, Owens gave an “unprecedented account” of what occurred which showed both the “magnitude of the crime” and his “expressions of remorse and shame”.
Mr Justice Colton said he needed time to reflect on the case, and said he would hand Owens a tariff term on December 20.