A MAN accused of a knife killing in Darlington has admitted murder.
But David Jeet Saunders pleaded guilty on a basis that he did not take the weapon to the scene and will face a mini-trial in front of a judge only - known as a Newton Hearing.

The 33-year-old, of Esk Road, Darlington, had earlier denied the charge, and was scheduled to have a trial before a jury at Teesside Crown Court which was listed to last six days.

But in a dramatic twist after Monday's lunch break, he admitted murdering 34-year-old Michael Lawson during an incident in the town's Geneva Road on July 1 this year.

Loading article content

Prosecutors do not accept Saunders's account that he did not take the knife to the scene, and evidence will be heard by Judge Stephen Ashurst in the coming days.

He will be tasked with determining the truth - as well as what were described in court as "satellite issues - before sentencing towards the end of the week.

Saunders will - by law - receive a life sentence, but the minimum tariff he will have to serve before being considered for parole will be affected by the facts ruled on by the judge.

The public gallery in Court 8 was packed with families of Saunders and Mr Lawson to hear the defendant - in a dark blue suit, light blue tie and white shirt - admit the offence.

It is anticipated that evidence for the prosecution will come from Home Office pathologist, Dr Mark Egan, and possibly the Durham Police officer in charge of the investigation.

Saunders' is expected to give evidence - expected to last half a day, according to his barrister, Peter Doyle, QC - on Wednesday, before Mr Doyle and prosecutor Nick Dry make closing submissions.

Mr Doyle told the court: "The central issue in this case is whether or not the weapon used was carried to the scene by the defendant or came into his possession while disarming the deceased.

"We take the view there out to be a Newton Hearing on that central issue as well as satellite issues. What is currently foreseen is that there will be limited live evidence."

Saunders, who was returned to custody, but will be in court each day this week, was told by Judge Ashurst: "The likelihood is I will not be able to move to sentence until Thursday.

"The fact that you have pleaded guilty to murder today, of course, means there will be no trial before a jury, but there are issues between your defence team and the Crown and I will have to make a decision based on the evidence I hear as to whether you took the knife to the scene of the fatal attack, and there are other issues as to whether you intended to kill or to do serious harm to your victim.

"My mind is not made up about those issues. I will have to hear the evidence and come to a conclusion having heard the submissions from both prosecution and defence counsel."

In a statement issued after the killing, Mr Lawson’s family said: “We cannot put into words the pain we are feeling from this needless tragic loss.

“Michael was an inspiration to us all, so full of life while caring for others, he was a son, grandson and dad who touched the hearts of all who knew him.”