Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Loyalist killer fails to overturn conviction for 1973 murder of Catholic teen

Eileen Doherty was shot dead by loyalist gunmen in 1973
Eileen Doherty was shot dead by loyalist gunmen in 1973

A loyalist killer failed today in a bid to overturn his conviction for the separate sectarian murder of a Catholic teenager 40 years ago.

Bobby Rodgers claimed he had not received a fair trial before being found guilty over the shooting of Eileen Doherty in south Belfast.

But the Court of Appeal rejected all grounds of challenge and declared the verdict safe.

Rodgers, who was sentenced to 16 years in jail for the murder, could still be freed in early 2015 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Ms Doherty, 19, was shot three times after her taxi was hijacked by gunmen in September 1973.

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

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.

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.

Rodgers' challenge to being convicted of Ms Doherty's murder centred on the decision to let the later killing feature as so-called bad character evidence at his trial.

Arguing that there were insufficient similarities between the two cases, defence counsel Greg Berry QC said: "It should not have been deployed. This was a weak case."

Issues were also raised over the loyalist's palm prints being recovered from the hijacked taxi.

Mr Berry pointed out that material including a police file from the original investigation has since been lost.

He contended it was more than fanciful to suggest an innocent explanation for a print being recovered from the steering wheel.

But according to Terence Mooney QC, for the prosecution, this amounted to crucial evidence of guilty.

"It's the palm prints that make the case. It's these matters which have to be looked under the microscope, not what might have been," he said.

"And, with respect, there's nothing but silence from the appellant."

Following a brief adjournment to consider submissions, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, sitting with Lord Justices Higgins and Girvan, upheld the conviction.

Sir Declan confirmed: "We have come to the conclusion that the verdict was safe.

"Accordingly we dismiss the appeal and we will give our reasons at a later stage."

Rodgers showed no emotion as prison guards led him from the court and back to jail.

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