Accused drank vodka on victim's bed
Mum denies beating pensioner to death
THE alleged killer of a Newry grandmother lay on the frail woman's bed drinking vodka straight from a bottle in the early hours of Christmas morning as her two-year-old son slept next door, she told a court.
Taking the stand in her own defence at Belfast Crown Court, Karen Walsh broke down as a prosecution barrister told her that her alleged victim, 81-year-old Maire Rankin, believed that Christmas was for family and that Ms Walsh should have been at home with her son rather than in her house drinking.
Ms Walsh (45) told the jury that she is "totally innocent" of the murder of Mrs Rankin, whose badly beaten body was discovered naked in the bedroom of her Newry home on Christmas Day, 2008.
"I have done nothing. I was very nice to that woman. I have all along told the truth about this. I could not have been nicer to Mrs Rankin," Ms Walsh told the jury. Ms Walsh, originally from Galway, with an address on the Dublin Road in Newry, denies murdering her next door neighbour.
The prosecution's case, already outlined to the jury, is that Ms Walsh beat Mrs Rankin to death, thrust Christ's crown of thorns into her face and sexually assaulted her -- and that she is linked to the scene, the crucifix and Mrs Rankin's body by DNA evidence.
The court has heard that Mrs Rankin died as a result of being beaten around the head and sustaining 15 fractured ribs, coupled with her underlying medical conditions of hypertension and chronic asthma.
The mother-of-one, who worked as a pharmacist in Dublin at the time of the murder, said she left her young son at home with her husband and called into Mrs Rankin's house at around 11.30pm on Christmas Eve with a bottle of vodka.
While there she said she drank vodka straight from the bottle as Mrs Rankin used a nebuliser to try and help her breathing.
Her lawyer Peter Irvine asked Ms Walsh if at any stage she had punched or struck Mrs Rankin, or if there had been an argument. Ms Walsh replied: "Absolutely not. I could not have been any nicer to Mrs Rankin."
She added: "I have no idea what happened to Mrs Rankin. I just know she was perfect when I left her."
The court was also told that following her arrest on suspicion of murder, Ms Walsh refused to answer any police questions on her solicitor's advice.
Ms Walsh claimed that when she left the Newry home of Mrs Rankin in the early hours of Christmas Day, 2008, her breathing was wheezy but "she was fine in that she was still alive".
Wearing a pink cardigan and black trousers, Ms Walsh told the jury she had been married to accountant Richard Durkin for seven years and the couple had a son together. She said the couple bought the house next door to Mrs Rankin in November 2007, "just to get away from Dublin" where she owned a pharmacy on George's Street.
Ms Walsh told the court how late on the evening of December 24, she went to call to one neighbour's house but when she thought they were out, went to Mrs Rankin's to deliver a Christmas card.
Mrs Rankin, she said, buzzed her in through the intercom and she "literally followed her voice" to the upstairs bedroom.
She said that, worried about Mrs Rankin's breathing, she went downstairs to search for an asthma inhaler but could not find one.
Ms Walsh denied making any phonecalls from Mrs Rankin's landline at around 7.20am on Christmas morning and also denied touching any of the phones in the house, two figurines found on the landing at the top of the stairs, a vanity case used to store medication found lying open on the kitchen floor or the remote control for Mrs Rankin's stair lift.
The trial continues.