'larger than life' | 

Co Antrim man remanded in custody accused of murdering Natasha Melendez in Lisburn in 2020

The 32-year-old mum of four was attacked on March 22 of that year and died from her injuries on April 1

Natasha Melendez

By Paul Higgins

A Co. Antrim man was remanded into custody today accused of murdering a woman, described by a judge as “larger than life,” almost two years ago.

Appearing at Lisburn Magistrates Court by video link from Magilligan Prison, the 33-year-old, who cannot be identified due to legal reasons, confirmed that he understood the four charges against him that he murdered Natasha Melendez on March 22, 2020, inflicted grievous bodily harm on Ms Melendez with intent “on a date unknown in February 2020” and two counts of causing her actual bodily harm on 15 February 2020 and “on a date unknown in December 2019.”

The 32-year-old mother of four, who was originally from Venezuela, was attacked on March 22 and tragically died as a result of her injuries on April 1.

Giving evidence to the court, Det. Inspector Davis said he believed he could connect the alleged killer to each of the offences and revealed that although initially arrested and questioned in the time between the assault and Ms Melendez’s tragic death, the Prison Service refused to release the defendant into the custody of the police for further interviews.

With District Judge Rosie Watter describing the stance of the Prison Service as “shocking", the senior detective said that due to the pandemic it wasn’t until last week that investigators were able to conduct further interviews with the alleged killer but even then, despite the police wanting to keep him overnight, they were only allowed to hold him between 10-5pm over the course of three days.

He further revealed the victim’s grieving mother “has been over once or twice” but that she had found it difficult to “understand the cause of the delay.”

Throughout the pandemic any defendant who enters a custodial setting either in Maghaberry or Magilligan prison must go through a two week isolation period as prison staff try to minimise the risk of a Covid outbreak.

Defence solicitor Ciaran Toner told DJ Watters that his client “has been waiting for almost two years and throughout that period, he has wanted this matter dealt with,” adding that the alleged killer was “willing to have to go into isolation… at no stage did he say he did not want to go into isolation, it was the Prison Service who just refused to release him.”

“I think it’s shocking,” said DJ Watters who said she remembered the killing because the victim “was larger than life".

“She appeared before this court for various things, nothing terribly serious,” said the judge, “I suppose I was aware that she had been found alive and had subsequently passed away…it’s shocking that it’s taken this length of time".

The alleged killer was remanded into custody and the case adjourned to 14 February.

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