Woman accused of beating pensioner to death with crucifix gets life sentence
A woman accused of beating a Northern Ireland pensioner to death with a crucifix on Christmas Day has been found guilty of murder.
Pharmacist Karen Walsh, 45, was handed a life sentence for killing Maire Rankin, 81, at her Newry, Co Down, home in the early hours of Christmas in 2008. She had been battered and possibly sexually assaulted.
The jury of seven women and five men took an hour and 52 minutes to return the verdict at Belfast Crown Court today.
Mr Justice Anthony Hart said: "Whatever happened on that night, this was a brutal attack on an elderly and defenceless woman, she was completely defenceless."
The public gallery was silent but as Walsh was led away ashen-faced she turned and told the judge: "I am totally innocent."
According to Northern Ireland's state pathologist, Ms Rankin had bruising on her chin consistent with the crown of thorns on Jesus' head.
Professor Jack Crane said considerable force had been used to cause extensive bruising to the face and scalp and that Ms Rankin had been subjected to a series of punches or blows with a blunt instrument.
The pensioner also suffered 15 broken ribs, which Prof Crane said may have been caused after death.
He gave evidence of other internal bruising and bleeding which he said indicated some form of sexual assault.
Ms Rankin was found in her Dublin Road home by a relative.
Walsh admitted being in the house but claimed she went earlier in the evening of Christmas Eve to bring Ms Rankin a present and when she left her neighbour was alive.
A detective told the trial she spoke to Karen Walsh on Christmas morning when she discovered she had been with the victim the previous evening.
She said Walsh asked whether Ms Rankin had been beaten and whether the door of her house had been open.
Another police officer told the court that when she was arrested on December 27 2008, the accused had replied: "I can't believe this. It is bizarre."
A neighbour of Walsh and the victim, Oliver Madden, said when he woke up on Christmas morning he spoke to Mrs Rankin`s son Diarmuid who told him of the family's suspicions that she had been murdered.
He said he received a phone call from the accused in the afternoon of the same day in which she asked him who was the last person to see her alive.
The court heard that Walsh visited the victim to give her a bottle of vodka. Items recovered at the scene included an almost empty litre bottle of vodka. It was tested for DNA and produced a mixed profile, but the major contributor was the accused.
A DNA expert also told the murder trial that the chances of DNA on the victim`s chin coming from someone other than the killer was one in a billion. DNA which could have come from the accused was also found on the pensioner's breasts and on the bottom of the crucifix.