A loyalist gunman has been sentenced to 25 years in jail for the sectarian murder of a prominent member of Belfast’s Italian community almost four decades ago.
Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement’s early release scheme, however, Robert James Clarke (58), from Crumlin, will serve less than two years behind bars for killing Catholic father-of-four Alfredo Fusco in a gun attack which took place at his cafe in north Belfast in February 1973.
Judge Mr Justice Richard McLaughlin said that Mr Fusco had been a “completely innocent man singled out for assassination in a brutal and terrifying manner”.
Two years after the murder, Clarke gunned down a 58-year-|old New Lodge Road woman, |Margaret O'Neill, in a sectarian drive-by shooting as she walked along the road with her husband.
Clarke, who owns a successful fuel business, was smiling as he was led into the dock by prison officers at Belfast Crown Court.
In February 1973 he walked into Mr Fusco’s cafe on the York Road armed with a submachine gun and chased his victim to a rear storeroom where he tried to barricade himself behind the door.
He shot Mr Fusco twice in the head and again as he lay dead on the floor.
“Inhumanity of this scale to any fellow human being demands that the courts impose a sentence to mark the rejection by civilised society of such acts,” Mr Justice McLaughlin told him.
Sentencing Clarke to 25 years, the judge said that the effect of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which was introduced as part of the Belfast Agreement, will result in him “serving nothing like that term”. “I consider it essential, however, to mark the seriousness of this offence having regard to the statutory requirements and the need to allow the community in general, and the family of the victim in particular, to have some sense that justice has been achieved,” he said.
As Clarke was led from the dock to begin his prison term he smiled broadly and waved at a handful of supporters in the public gallery.
Clarke was arrested for the murder in August in 2009 after a review of the case by the Historical Enquiry Team.
They were able, for the first time, to identify Clarke's palm and finger prints which had been found on the door through which Mr Fusco was shot. Clarke was convicted of murder in February following a non-jury trial.