A FORMER Wigan soldier is facing years behind bars after admitting he killed a fellow down-and-out.
Stephen Thomas had denied both the murder and manslaughter of Darren Bolger, but just after a jury was empanelled, he suddenly changed his plea to guilty to the lesser charge.
He had previously stood trial on the allegation of murdering the 40-year-old in June this year, but after 11 hours of deliberations, the first Liverpool Crown Court jury was unable to agree a verdict, and a retrial was ordered for this week.
After he entered his guilty plea to manslaughter, the jury recorded a verdict of not guilty on the murder charge on the directions of the judge, Mr Justice Henriques.
Thomas, 26, and of no fixed address, was further remanded in custody until January 9 to enable a pre-sentence report to be prepared.
Mr Bolger suffered a fractured skull during an attack on January 27 near the Salvation Army Hostel in Parr Street, St Helens, which led to fatal bleeding and swelling on the brain.
He was taken to Whiston Hospital where fell into a coma and was declared dead shortly before midnight.
During the first trial Thomas, who had only been released from prison that day, admitted hitting Mr Bolger, but insisted it was a “fight that had gone wrong.”
A schoolboy, who witnessed the incident, had told the court that he saw “a squabble” and Mr Bolger being stuck with hard punches in the face which caused him to fall to the ground.
The fatal fracture was said to have probably been “sustained when he fell to the floor and smacked his head on the tarmac surface.”
Anne Whyte QC, prosecuting, also claimed that marks on the victim’s face indicated that the attacker had used a foot as well as his fists and the soles of Thomas’s shoes matched a pattern found in blood at the scene.
“Also there were contact marks to the back of the victim’s head and they probably came about after Mr Bolger had been floored and then kicked,” she said.
Miss Whyte told the jury that Mr Bolger, who weighed just eight stone 11lbs, fell “he hit his head hard and audibly on the floor.”
Mr Bolger had earlier turned up at the Salvation Army hostel in Phoenix Brow, St Helens, where he had been staying earlier that month. He asked to use the telephone but was refused permission as he was drunk and stumbling, though not aggressive or abusive.
Thomas, who had stayed at the hostel last year, also arrived and asked to see two friends but his request was rejected, said Miss Whyte.
CCTV footage showed him leaving and walking past Mr Bolger and there was no sign of any altercation between them. He went round the back of the hostel and Mr Thomas went round the front.
The security cameras then showed Thomas gesturing towards a 6ft high metal fence, running across the grassed area and scaling the fence, injuring his left hand as he went over, claimed Miss Whyte.
“He appears to have chased Mr Bolger down the alleyway,” she added.
An employee of a nearby car sales heard a male voice, believed to have been the victim saying “come on then” and the passing schoolboy saw the squabble and fatal incident.
“Not long after 3pm the defendant saw people he knew from the hostel and what he told them amounted to a clear admission of violence and serious assault.
“He described how he assaulted Mr Bolger and left him on the floor. He was not shy about what he had done and how he had set about the victim and he appeared to show very little care or concern about the devastation that he had left behind,” alleged Miss Whyte.