Ex-bartender John McLaughlin's hopes of a reprieve from his life prison sentence have been dealt a setback by Pennsylvania's Superior Court.
The mid-level appeals court on Tuesday rejected McLaughlin's appeal of his first-degree murder conviction for the 2008 baseball bat beating of bartender Seamus O'Neill during an early-morning argument at McWhitey's, McLaughlin's Port Richmond pub.
The three-judge appeals panel wrote that McLaughlin failed to raise most of his appeal issues before the Philadelphia trial judge and thus waived them before Superior Court. As for McLaughlin's main claim – the guilty verdict was not supported by the weight of the evidence – the Superior Court judges ruled that their review was limited to whether the trial judge abused his discretion to examine whether the verdict was at variance with evidence.
The Superior Court panel wrote that the rulings of the trial judge, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart, did not give it a reason to review the question. "The jury, sitting as the finder of fact, chose to believe the evidence presented by the Commonwealth, as was its right," wrote Superior Court Judge Jacqueline O. Shogan.
Barring a successful appeal, McLaughlin, 42, will spend the rest of his life in prison. In Pennsylvania, a life sentence for murder carries no chance of parole. McLaughlin is in the Rockview state prison near Penn State's main campus.
In March 2012, a jury found McLaughlin guilty of the Jan. 3, 2008 slaying of O'Neill, 60, an immigrant from Northern Ireland who was a popular bartender at another Port Richmond tavern, My Blue Heaven. O'Neill had stopped by McWhitey's for a nightcap after finishing his shift at the other bar.
The jury also convicted McLaughlin's friend, Samuel E. Toy, 50, of hindering apprehension and obstruction of justice. In April 2012, Toy was sentenced to 11-1/2 to 23 months in prison. Trial witnesses said Toy helped McLaughlin wrap O'Neill's body in a tarp and store it in the basement of McWhitey's, clean up blood stains from around the barroom, and then fled with his friend to Lehigh County. Both were arrested Jan. 11, 2008, at a hotel near Allentown.