The prosecution in the Ashley Dale murder trial has suggested to the jury why James Witham admitted killing Ashley Dale three months before the trial started.
James Witham smashed down the door to the Knowsley Council worker's house shortly after midnight on August 21, last year. The 41-year-old then sprayed bullets throughout the house and fatally injured Ashley.
The 28-year-old was shot in the abdomen and collapsed in her back yard, before dying in hospital a short time later. Five men are currently on trial at Liverpool Crown Court accused of her murder.
James Witham has admitted to using a Skorpion submachine gun to kill Ashley, but claims he did not see or hear her. He insists that he was instead attempting to "send a message" to her boyfriend Lee Harrison, who was not present at the time.
Jurors heard the final pieces of evidence on Thursday, November 9, before Paul Greaney KC began his closing speech for the prosecution. Mr Greaney suggested to the jury that Witham only admitted to the killing when DNA evidence put him at the scene.
He said: "As recently as August this year, just three months ago, James Witham was intending to come to this trial and claim to you he was completely uninvolved in the murder of Ashley Dale. He had even determined to advance an alibi, maintaining he was at home at the time of the attack on Leinster Road.
"He was prepared to tell you lies of an extreme nature. He knew he had killed Ashley. He was going to come to this trial and say ‘nothing to do with me’. Of course, people may tell lies for many reasons, but let me be clear what the prosecution case is.
"James Witham was telling those lies to you because he hoped to get away with killing Ashley. It’s as simple as that. He wanted to get away with killing Ashley. He hoped he would be able to walk away a free man. That was his end game in August."
He added: "James Witham only acknowledged the killer when it became obvious to him he could not deny it. His DNA was found on a bullet in the house, his footprint was on the door that was forced open, the car he was using had been caught on CCTV. He simply realised had no choice but to admit he was the killer."
Mr Greaney went on to suggest to the jury that Witham then decided to be the "fall guy" for the other defendants. He said: "Since then James Witham has sought to admit the very least he can. Moreover, he has sought to be a fall guy for the other defendants. James Witham has told lies to conceal the full extent of his own wrongdoing, to secure a better outcome for himself and to help the other members of his gang. In short he has lied because he is guilty and the other defendants are too."
However, earlier this week, Witham told the jury that he changed his plea to guilty of manslaughter because it "ate me inside". Answering questions from his defence counsel Richard Pratt KC, he said: "It's ate me inside. I hadn’t slept for a year. I’ve been having nightmares all the time.
"I’ve got other people arrested who had nothing to do with it. I regret it so much and I have got to live with it for the rest of my life. It was just a warning. I just shot into the wall. If I knew anyone was there I would have drove home."
Witham, of Ashbury Road in Huyton, Zeisz, of Longreach Road in Huyton, 26-year-old Barry, of Moscow Drive in Tuebrook, 29-year-old Peers, of Woodlands Road in Roby, and 28-year-old Fitzgibbon, of Heigham Gardens in St Helens, have pleaded not guilty to murdering Ashley Dale, conspiracy to murder Lee Harrison and conspiracy to possess a prohibited weapon, namely a Skorpion submachine gun, and ammunition with intent to endanger life. Witham has admitted the lesser charge of manslaughter.
A sixth defendant – 26-year-old Kallum Radford, of Trentham Road in Kirkby – denies assisting an offender. The trial, before Mr Justice Goose, continues.