A "FRAIL, fragile and delicate" pensioner with a heart condition was sexually assaulted after she was murdered at Christmas three years ago, the trial of her female neighbour heard yesterday.
Karen Walsh (45), the wife of a prominent Dublin financier, denies the murder of Marie Rankin (81).
Mrs Rankin's body was found in the bedroom of her home on Christmas Day 2008, after her family became worried about her when she didn't answer their telephone calls.
Opening the case at Belfast Crown Court, Liam McCollum told the jury of seven women and five men there was powerful and compelling evidence that Ms Walsh, a pharmacist, killed Mrs Rankin after going into her home for a drink on Christmas Eve.
He also said that a crucifix that had hung above Mrs Rankin's bed had been used to hit her around the face.
Mr McCollum said it appeared that Ms Walsh sat on Mrs Rankin to carry out a "sustained" assault, which left her with serious head injuries and broken ribs. He warned the jury they would hear distressing and harrowing evidence during the trial.
Ms Walsh, with an address at Dublin Road in Newry but originally from Galway, listened intently as Mr McCollum outlined the case against her.
Her husband Richard Durkin, a leading auditor and chartered accountant, sat in the public gallery.
Mr McCollum told the jury a brother-in-law, Arthur Morgan, found Mrs Rankin's naked body on the bedroom floor of her home on Christmas morning.
There were bruises to Mrs Rankin's face and arms and a post-mortem revealed bleeding and redness at the opening of her vagina.
He said a hard object had been inserted into her vagina and Mr McCollum added it appeared the sexual assault had been carried out after Mrs Rankin's death.
The lawyer said marks were found on the dead woman's chin consistent with having been inflicted by her own crucifix, which was found lying on the floor of her bedroom. The body of the crucifix had fallen off, he added.
Mr McCollum said there was "very strong" DNA evidence linking Ms Walsh to the wounds on Mrs Rankin's chin and he said DNA on her breasts and on the crucifix could also have come from the accused.
He said the post-mortem showed Mrs Rankin had suffered repeated blows to her head with a hard, blunt object.
Mrs Rankin's daughter Brenda said Mrs Rankin had been due to spend Christmas Eve with her but decided against it because she wanted one more night in her own home to get over a bad cold.
"I wish I had persuaded her now," she said. "It was the only time in her life that she'd spent Christmas Eve on her own."
When Ms Walsh was first questioned by police, she admitted she had gone to her neighbour's home with a litre bottle of vodka and a Christmas card.
She said that she left after half an hour and that Mrs Rankin was in bed.
But Mr McCollum said another neighbour had seen Ms Walsh sitting on a wall on the Dublin Road early on Christmas morning and police found phone records that suggested she tried to call her husband in Dublin around the same time. But he said the caller had mixed up the dialling codes for north and south, indicating someone who had been in a panic.
Mr McCollum said there were no signs of a forced entry into Mrs Rankin's home, which he claimed showed that she knew her killer. The trial continues.