Remorseless crucifix killer will spend at least 20 years in prison
A PHARMACIST who murdered her elderly next-door neighbour with a crucifix will spend at least 20 years behind bars.
Yesterday, mother-of-one Karen Walsh (45), who is from Galway, was handed down one of the longest minimum jail terms for a female killer.
Walsh, who protested her innocence throughout her trial, showed no emotion as Mr Justice Hart sentenced her at Belfast Crown Court for what he described as a sustained and brutal attack on an elderly, defenceless and frail woman.
Walsh will now spend at least two decades in jail, alongside killer Jacqueline Crymble and double murderer Hazel Stewart who were given 20 and 18-year minimum terms.
Walsh had been drinking from a bottle of vodka at the time of the murder in the early hours of Christmas Day 2008 at her next-door neighbour Maire Rankin's home in Newry, Co Down.
Walsh, who had called round to visit her 81-year-old neighbour, battered the grandmother with a crucifix, which had been given to Mrs Rankin as a wedding present.
Judge Hart said Walsh did not intend to kill Mrs Rankin, who also suffered eight broken ribs, but to cause her grievous bodily harm. The pharmacist used the crucifix to attack Mrs Rankin, a devout Catholic, who was using a nebuliser when she was struck on the face.
Walsh left the court yesterday still protesting her innocence but the judge said she had shown no remorse and posed a significant risk to the public.
The judge said: "She inflicted a further degradation upon Mrs Rankin by removing her clothing and then sexually molesting her in order to make it look as if an intruder had broken in and attacked Mrs Rankin after the defendant had left.
"This additional degradation represents a very serious aggravating factor in an already grave case."
Last night one of Mrs Rankin's eight children, Brenda Rankin, said that the Rankin family knew the sentence would be at the upper end of the scale.
"The severity of mummy's murder was reflected in the severity of the sentence and we are very relieved at that," Ms Rankin told the Irish Independent.
"We are very happy that Karen Walsh has been put out of harm's way. We are now ready to start to let go.
"The sentence will never bring mummy back, but it helps to know that justice has been done."
Mrs Rankin's two sisters, Annie Morgan and Clair McDonnail, were among more than 40 relatives and friends who packed the gallery to hear the sentence.
Walsh's husband Richard Durkin, a Dublin-based tax consultant who spent the weekends with his wife and young son at the house in Newry, sat on his own, but his wife never looked back as she was escorted from the dock.