Stephen McKinney who murdered his wife Lu Na as their children slept during a family boating holiday in County Fermanagh will spend at least the next 20 years in prison for what a judge described as his cruel, cold-blooded and ruthlessly planned murder of his vulnerable, defenceless wife.

This is the minimum term the 45 year old originally from the County Tyrone border town of Strabane must serve of his life sentence before the Parole Commissioners even consider if he should be set free again.

Today, Thursday, November 25, Madam Justice McBride told the father of two, given the multitude and gravity of aggravating factors in his case, it required this substantially higher sentence of 20 years than the normal of 15 or 16 years.

He has always denied murdering his wife whose lifeless body was recovered in the early hours of April 13, 2017 by a jetty at Devenish Island on Lower Lough Erne where the family had tied-up on the first night of their East Break cruise.

And McKinney, with an address in Castletown Square in Fintona, Tyrone, but who'd lived with his 35-year-old wife and children in Flaxfield, Convoy, in Donegal has already lodged the grounds to appeal his conviction.

As he was being led from the dock of Court 6 in Belfast's Laganside Courthouse, McKinney again protested his innocence, telling those around him: "I want to say something. I'm innocent".

Earlier he listened in silence as Madam Justice McBride said he'd been "found guilty of the most heinous crime" of his wife whom he'd treated throughout the marriage with "disrespect".

And she added: "You abused, degraded her and manipulated and controlled her and finally you took away her life. It was such a needless and cruel action. You were someone that she should have been able to trust but you betrayed that position and you ended her life prematurely.

"Lu Na has been described as gentle and light hearted. She was only 35 years old when she died. You denied her the opportunity of seeing her kids grow up, going to college and having their own families. You have left a trail of destruction in your wake.

"Two young children have been deprived of their mother’s love, care and support. As a result of your action you have left the children without parents to care for them and their lives have been irreparably adversely affected.

"You have also deprived a mother of her only child and have caused endless hurt and pain by your cruel and callous actions. You committed this crime in cold blood. It was carefully planned and ruthlessly executed and carried out when Lu Na was entirely defenceless," said the Madam Justice.

Madam Justice McBride also praised the PSNI investigation both by the local team of detectives and latterly by the major investigation team, into the callous ruthless killing, telling McKinney but for their "comprehensive and painstaking detective work" he may very well "have got away with murder".

Their "excellent work in this case", said the judge "deserved public acknowledgement".

Turning to the findings of the Dungannon Crown Court jury, of eight men and four women, following the four-month trial, the Madam Justice said they had clearly rejected "his version of events that her death was a tragic accident".

The judge said by their verdict, they also accepted McKinney's actions, “showed premeditation .. he organised the trip, and ensured his wife Lu Na was placed in a situation where he could put her into the water...knowing she could not save herself".

And she added she was "satisfied the jury found the defendant's intention was to kill his wife and is clearly established beyond reasonable doubt, on the scenario where he set her into the water and also established in the scenario where he pushed her into the water...and that there was no evidence to suggest he pushed her into the lough in the spur of the moment due to an argument".

Madam Justice McBride said there were a number of aggravating features to the case while declaring that she could find no mitigating factors in McKinney's favour.

The judge then set out the three main features which called for the higher sentencing tariff in McKinney's case.

Madam Justice McBride said she was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt he knew his wife was a non-swimmer and often took the sleeping pill Zopiclone.

"He knew that she either would not awaken from Zopiclone once placed in the water and would die by drowning or he knew that she could not react to the dangers present once pushed into the water because of her consumption of Zopiclone and therefore she would drown.

"I am further satisfied that he moored at a remote location so that he could murder his wife without there being any eyewitnesses and in circumstances where he would have a cover story that she accidentally drowned. After he murdered her, the defendant put in chain a number of carefully prepared scripts she had died by accident which he relayed on the 999 call, to various witnesses and to the police.

"He further attempted to point any finger of suspicion away from him by stating he attempted to rescue her when in fact he failed to take any such action but rather doused himself with water to make it look like he had jumped into the Lough to save her.”

Secondly, the judge said the presence of the two McKinney children was no "accident but design as the defendant sought cynically to use his children’s presence to throw suspicion away from him for the murder he intended to commit.

"As a result the defendant put his children through the additional trauma of being removed by the police from their cabin in the middle of the night from an island in circumstances where they must have known their mother was gravely ill or deceased.”

Lastly Madam Justice McBride found that the murder was the culmination of the coercive controlling behaviour of the defendant throughout the marriage. She said that although there was no violence in the marriage "McKinney had subjected his wife to coercive control and forced her to engage in a number of sexual activities against her will.

"And when confronted with the prospect of her divorcing him, with all the consequences that the defendant murder her," the Judge concluded her summary of the sentencing.