Published Tuesday, 28 January 2014
John Stanley Foster, 31 and from Corrigs Road in Newcastle, showed no emotion when the seven-year sentence was handed down on Tuesday at Downpatrick Crown Court.
He had previously been warned in no uncertain terms by Mr Justice Burgess that he was going to jail over what was branded "an extreme overreaction".
The judge accepted that the 47-year-old victim Mr Mills had actually been the initial aggressor when the second cousins ended up in a fight on Main Street in Ballynahinch on 30 September.
But Mr Justice Burgess said that Foster's retaliation had been an "extreme overreaction", landing 12 punches - some of them while the victim was defenceless on the ground.
He added that it was tragic that Mr Mills' death had been the result of a chance encounter and that "a few minutes" would have caused a vastly difference outcome.
Foster, a father-of-four, had been on trial for the murder of Mr Mills - but proceedings were dramatically halted when he pleaded guilty to manslaughter instead.
He now knows that he will have to live with this guilt for the rest of his life.
Mr Justice Burgess
In sentencing him to seven years, half in prison and half on supervised licence, Mr Justice Burgess said the jail term could have been 10 years if Foster had not pleaded guilty but had subsequently been convicted by a jury.
The victim suffered multiple fatal head injuries, including fractures to his neck and jaw in the brawl.
A prosecution QC told the court that Foster's guilty plea to the lesser charge of manslaughter was accepted because "there is a reasonable possibility that the fatal blows were administered at a time when the necessary specific intent had not been formed by the defendant".
The judge also explained that Foster had always admitted his responsibility for the death and had always been willing to plead guilty to manslaughter, but it was not until that charge was added to the indictment that the opportunity was available to him.
Mr Justice Burgess said he was giving Foster "substantial credit" for pleaded guilty, adding that he believed it reflected "the high level of remorse exhibited by the defendant".
The judge told Foster that, while it was to his credit that he stayed at the scene and helped tend to his victim, the offence was aggravated because of his "overreaction" and because he had ignored previous warning about his behaviour while drunk.
But he added that Foster would have to live with his guilt, while the sentence would also "cause great upset to his partner and children - all innocent parties in this tragedy".
The court previously heard that Foster had a record for public violence, with convictions for disorderly behaviour and assaults dating back to his teenage years - prompting the prosecution to submit that he showed a "propensity towards violence".
Mr Justice Burgess ordered that as part of Foster's licence conditions, he must undergo counselling for drink and drug abuse "to reduce the potential for reoffending".
A lot of joy has gone out of our lives.
Victim impact statement
Mr Justice Burgess also outlined that the victim impact reports written by Mr Mills' family showed clearly how badly affected his children had been by their father's death, adding that they were "a moving testimony to the devastation and trauma" they had endured.
Relatives of the victim were told by Mr Justice Burgess that the sentence was not designed to measure the worth of Mr Mills' and that "there is nothing this court can do to turn the clock back".
Outside the court, there was a tense atmosphere among the families involved.
After a relative of the defendant directed a comment towards Mr Mills' family, a uniformed police officer and court security officer had to step in to keep the peace.
Neither Mr Mills' sister nor brother wished to make any comment on Tuesday's sentence.
© UTV News