A FIREMAN who savagely attacked a father-of-four at a wedding party was yesterday convicted of murder and told he must serve a minimum of 11 years.
Jason Halling, a martial arts enthusiast, broke Kevin Smith’s jaw, nose and hand with a barrage of punches.
The victim, who suffered 25 separate injuries, died two days later from head injuries in hospital, Worcester Crown Court was told.
A jury found 29-year-old Halling, of Firs Orchard, Bromyard, guilty after deliberating for almost four hours.
Passing a life sentence, Judge Alistair McCreath said Halling must serve a minimum of 11 years in jail before the parole board can consider his release.
The judge said the case was a tragedy for the victim and the defendant and accepted that Halling had not set out with an intention to kill.
But he said the evidence showed he intended to cause the Bromyard businesman serious harm after Mr Smith, aged 47, made a “discourteous” remark on the balcony of Sapey Golf Club on New Year’s Day last year.
The judge told Halling: “You reacted in a wholly disproportionate way. It happened in a flash and was not premeditated.
"I accept that you are deeply upset by this tragic and meaningless death.”
He said Mr Smith, who also had a farm, was “a good and decent man” who gave much of his time to others.
His death had brought grief and devastation to all those who knew him.
Prosecutor Tim Raggatt QC revealed that Halling had a police caution for affray in 2007 after an incident in a Hereford pub when he shouted at bar staff.
He said the defendant had lengthy experience of martial arts and understood the effects of striking blows.
Mr Smith had told the defendant he didn’t like him and Halling had reacted “in a brutal way”, he said. One witness said it was like “a boxer hitting a punchbag” and another saw 10 blows struck while Mr Smith lay helpless on the balcony floor.
Partygoers had to drag Halling off the victim and as he stood in a doorway he was heard to shout a death threat.
He got a lift home and then sent a “gloating” photograph of himself with bandaged hands to a friend via a mobile phone.
A pathologist estimated that Halling, who had married six months before the attack, struck six heavy blows. One dislodged a tooth.
He claimed he acted in self defence and alleged that Mr Smith had a violent reputation.
Defence counsel Rachel Brand QC said: “One decent, hard-working man is dead and gone and another is in the dock for killing him.
“The impact of the conviction will last his whole life. He will try to rebuild his life on release – but it won’t be easy.
"He went out that night with no thought of trouble. This was a highly spontaneous flash of temper in response to what the other man said.”
Speaking after the verdict, Mr Smith’s family said: “Kevin was a big part of our family and just one moment of madness has destroyed so many lives.
"He was very much a family man and a great father but unfortunately he will never get to watch his children grow up or meet his grandchildren.
“Kevin had a lot to give but the actions of that night mean his life was short lived.
“We feel as a whole family that justice has been done but sadly this will not bring Kevin back.
“Many lives have been destroyed forever by what happened on that evening.
“It should have been a time to celebrate a new beginning, a young family’s future, but it ended in a nightmare.”
- Hereford & Worcester Fire and Rescue Service would like it made clear that Jason Halling was not employed as a firefighter by their Service at the time of the offence.