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Cold killer sticks to lies as she starts life behind bars

Karen Walsh beat her elderly next-door neighbour to death in a drink-fuelled rage and then staged a sexual assault to cover her tracks.

She repeatedly beat Maire Rankin over the head with a crucifix, in an attack so severe the Christ figure was broken off.

But even as she was led away to begin a life sentence, Walsh, her eyes fixed on the judge, shouted out to the court: "I am completely innocent."

She not only denied a loving family the joy of seeing their elderly mother live out her final years in peace, but also an explanation for what had happened.

Walsh did not seek the support from her husband, Dublin tax consultant Richard Durkin, who had been a constant presence during the trial. She wouldn't have found him if she had.

He had stepped outside the Laganside court building in Belfast shortly after the jury retired to consider its verdict, and when the jury returned he could not get back into the public gallery as it was full.

He stood outside unable to hear as the foreman of the jury sealed his wife's fate.

The judge had spent yesterday morning summing up the case against Walsh.

The jury retired to make its decision at 2.10pm. Just before 4pm, word spread that they had reached a verdict.

Within minutes, the public gallery was packed, filled with Mrs Rankin's children, grandchildren and extended family.

Walsh walked into the dock, for one final time. She was wearing a sombre black trouser suit and with her dyed blonde hair neatly tied up in a ponytail.

She kept her head bowed, her eyes averted. She had no one to turn to. She appeared calm. But she took a number of deep breaths, perhaps to try to steady her nerves as she awaited her fate.

At times, the jury had heard distressing and harrowing evidence, and it must have been difficult for them to view the pictures of the "frail and fragile" pensioner's naked and bruised body.

"On the count of murder, what is your decision," asked the court clerk. The foreman of the jury, leaning towards the microphone, uttered one word, "guilty".

The verdict was greeted with grim silence. Some of Mrs Rankin's grandchildren quietly wiped tears from their eyes.

Her children didn't move, as if compressed into their seats by that one word. They sat still, the impact of the decision slowly sinking in. Then slowly, shock gave way to grief as tears pooled in.

They glanced towards the woman who had killed their much-loved mother as she was led from the court.

Walsh did not look at them, but gazed directly at the judge, telling him: "I am completely innocent."