Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Loyalist Bobby Rodgers contests evidence in Eileen Doherty murder appeal

Eileen Doherty was shot dead in 1973
Eileen Doherty was shot dead in 1973
The scene where Eileen Doherty was shot dead

A loyalist bidding to overturn his conviction for a sectarian murder 40 years ago is to challenge the decision to let a later killing feature in his trial.

Bobby Rodgers' lawyers are focusing on the admission of bad character evidence relating to a subsequent shooting for which he was found guilty.

Palm print evidence will also be contested at his appeal against being convicted of murdering Catholic teenager Eileen Doherty.

Judges today listed the case for a two-day hearing in September. 

Ms Doherty, 19, was shot three times after her taxi was hijacked by gunmen in south Belfast.

She was returning home to the west of the city from a visit to her fiance when the killing was carried out in September 1973.

Rodgers, 59, of Tierney Gardens, Belfast, was charged following a review of available evidence by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET).

He denied the murder but was convicted following a non-jury trial earlier this year.

A judge ruled there could be no possible innocent explanation for Rodgers' palm prints being uncovered inside the hijacked taxi.

Although not suspected of firing the fatal shots, he was found guilty of a joint enterprise to murder.

Rodgers has already served 17 years in prison for the killing of a Catholic man a year later.

Ciaran McElroy, 18, was shot a number of times in September 1974 on Park End Street, Belfast.

Despite receiving a further 16-year sentence for Ms Doherty's murder, he could be freed after two years under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

However, his lawyers have launched legal moves aimed at securing a swifter release.

They are pressing ahead with a bid to have him freed under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy.

Alongside that an early hearing to challenge his conviction was listed in the Court of Appeal today.

Following the confirmation Rodgers' solicitor, Kevin Winters, outlined his concerns about the case.

He said: "At trial the court allowed in bad character evidence in relation to an incident a year later. We say that needs challenged.

"We also have major concerns about the print evidence used in this case, given that material in relation to it has since been destroyed or gone missing."

Mr Winters was accompanied by William 'Plum' Smith, a loyalist involved with ex-prisoners' project EPIC who claimed Rodgers suffered "a gross miscarriage of justice".

Mr Smith added: "Recent decisions made in the courts lends substance to the belief that the Protestant community have been treated unequally."

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