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Emotional scenes after not guilty verdict at murder trial

Wellesbourne Airfield
Wellesbourne Airfield

Edward Cornet, also known as Eddie, was stabbed three times in the chest by Mr Merrilees and later died of his injuries.

The court heard that on 15 May Jack Merrilees, his girlfriend Rebecca Beveridge, his mother Stephanie and Mr Cornet had visited a pub in Warwick and a restaurant in Leamington.

The group then returned to Stephanie Merrilees’ home via a bookmakers with both Mr Cornet and Mr Merrilees continuing to consume alcohol.

Mr Cornet was excited about a boxing match that night and during the evening the group streamed fighting videos and listening to music through a television using a laptop.

The events immediately leading to Mr Cornet’s death began at around 11pm when a facebook picture of one of Mr Merrilees friends called Josh appeared on the TV screen.

Mr Cornet was angry at the image claiming Josh had not bought him a drink on New Year’s Eve, and in an expletive ridden outburst, ordered Mr Merrilees to take the picture down.

Mr Cornet’s reaction came as a shock and Mr Merrilees quickly took the picture off the screen.

Shortly afterwards Mr Merrilees accidentally let the picture to come up on the TV again, at which point Mr Cornet flew into a rage.

Ms Bickerstaff, defending said he grabbed the TV and pulled it to the floor, smashing the screen, before flying at Mr Cornet.

Mr Cornet began strangling Mr Merrilees, whilst saying: “I f*****g hate you.”

Stephanie Merrilees intervened in an attempt to stop Mr Cornet’s attack, clawing at his face and eyes with her fingernails.

Mr Cornet eventually released Mr Merrilees, who fled the living room picking up a small kitchen knife on his way out of the back of the house.

Mr Merrilees says he thought his mum and girlfriend were right behind him, but realised that they were further back when he heard Rebecca scream.

He returned to find Mr Cornet cornering his frightened girlfriend and threw a punch at him in an attempt to distract his attention.

Mr Cornet turned to Mr Merrilees and again attempted to strangle him.

Mr Merrilees warned Mr Cornet that he had a knife and that he would stab him if he didn’t leave him alone, but he continued to advance on Mr Merrilees who by this point had moved to the patio outside.

Mr Merrilees held the knife in front of him but as Mr Cornet continued his attack, he stabbed in the chest.

All of Mr Cornet’s wounds were within a small area, indicating they were inflicted rapidly, with one forceful enough to pass through his breastbone.

One of the wounds penetrated Mr Cornet’s heart.

Mr Cornet slumped onto a bin before falling to the floor while neighbours who overheard the incident claim they heard a younger male voice saying “I hope he does fucking die.”

Mr Merrilees then ran to the street where witnesses observed a young man in a grey hoody sobbing and muttering to himself.

He returned to the scene soon after and helped the police with their enquiries.

The whole incident, from the TV being smashed to the ambulance being called for Mr Cornet, lasted just four minutes, a fact the defence said indicated Mr Merrilees actions were out of fear, rather than premeditated out of anger.

Mr Merrilees said both he and Mr Cornet had consumed around 6-7 pints during the day, though toxicology results on both Mr Merrilees and Mr Cornet could not be considered completely reliable as Mr Cornet receiving a blood transfusion and Mr Merrilees not being tested until several hours after the incident.

Summing up for the defence Jane Bickerstaff QC, painted a picture of Mr Cornet as a man prone to aggression and violence particularly when he had been drinking.

Ms Bickerstaff drew attention to a number of incidents when Mr Cornet had acted violently, including when he was seen by Mr Merrilees to pin his mother to the wall by the neck.

She described a time when an intoxicated Mr Cornett got into a fight at the pub in which Mr Merrilees worked before headbutting him and said in the past Mr Cornet had made threats to kill Stephanie Merrilees’ children.

She drew attention to Mr Merrilees’ good character, describing him as a young man with no previous convictions, who had never been in trouble.

Ms Bickerstaff said: “The prosecution say it was murder, for that you must be sure that in anger the defendant acted with malice, against his normal character and stabbed Edward Cornet with intent to kill him or to cause him serious harm.

“There’s nothing to say that if somebody is attacking you with their bare hands, you have to use your bare hands, it’s about how the person being attacked perceives the attack, there is no rule about not using a weapon in these circumstances.

“Is there a shred of doubt that Edward Cornet was a violent man? No there isn’t. He has a history of violence that stretches back over his entire life, he had a bad temper and it was worse when he was drunk.

“We have a long list of agreed facts about Edward Cornet’s life, from 1976, 40 years ago, this man built up a catalogue of violence.”

She said that when Mr Cornet lost control he would not stop, even on occasion when the police were called to take him away.

Describing Mr Cornet’s reaction to seeing Josh’s picture on the TV she said: “Just think about that, have you ever done that? Have you ever grabbed the TV and smashed it up? Have you ever seen anybody do that? It must have been very frightening.

“After that he jumped on Jack, he strangled him, he had his weight on him. Just imagine what that must have felt like for Jack, he’s just a young man. The defence accepts that this happened, there must have been a massive element of shock, he says he’s never been strangled before. He couldn’t breath and thought he was going to pass out.”

Describing Mr Merrilees decision to grab a kitchen knife on his way out of the house, Ms Bickerstaff said: “He must have been terrified to do that.”

She said Mr Merrilees could easily have picked up a much bigger knife but chose to take the smallest one.

Ms Bickerstaff said: “Where did he go after he picked up the knife? He went away from Edward Cornet and the biggest truth in this case is that if Edward Cornet had not pursued the three of them out of the door Jack would have left and Mr Cornet would be alive. He (Edward Cornet) was not pursuing them to say he was sorry, he was still after a fight. He doesn’t stop.”

She said this was a fast paced incident in which Jack had virtually no time to think and to suggest that Jack Merrilees’ good character could change it just four minutes was wrong.

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