Belfast Telegraph

Crucifix killer to use new evidence about 'visitor' in pensioner murder appeal

By Alan Erwin

A pharmacist jailed for battering her elderly neighbour to death with a crucifix can introduce fresh evidence to support claims someone else may have been in the victim's home shortly after she was killed, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Senior judges granted permission for Karen Walsh's legal team to rely on expert opinion that three telephone calls made to Maire Rankin's house within 45 minutes of the latest estimated time of her death were probably answered.

Lawyers for Walsh (48) argue that the material was not properly made available at her trial and could undermine the prosecution case.

She is seeking to overturn her conviction for murdering Mrs Rankin in the early hours of Christmas Day 2008.

The 81-year-old victim was found dead in the bedroom of her Dublin Road home in Newry, Co Down.

Mrs Rankin, a devout Catholic, had suffered up to 15 broken ribs and been beaten with a crucifix given to her as a wedding gift.

Evidence of a sexual assault -thought to have been carried out to cover the killer's tracks - was also discovered.

Walsh is currently serving a minimum 20-year prison sentence for carrying out the attack.

During her trial, the prosecution claimed she arrived at Mrs Rankin's home already drunk and with a bottle of vodka.

It was alleged that the mother of one then flew into a rage and attacked the pensioner after being chastised about her drinking and told to go home to her young son.

Walsh continues to protest her innocence. As part of her appeal defence lawyers have obtained a telecommunications expert whose opinion is that three calls to Mrs Rankin's in a 15-minute period either side of 10am on Christmas morning were answered.

Frank O'Donoghue QC, for Walsh, contended that the phone records held within a police intelligence unit were not properly disclosed at trial.

Seeking permission to have the material admitted into the appeal yesterday, he claimed it potentially undermines the prosecution case that no one but his client was in the victim's home that morning.

Liam McCollum QC, prosecuting, claimed the new evidence was of no help to Walsh because it was impossible to prove whether the calls were answered.

He pointed out that the victim's daughter Brenda gave evidence at trial about making several calls to her mother that morning that went unanswered.

The three judges, headed by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, ruled it was in the interests of justice to admit the evidence.

With the telecommunications expert due to testify at the appeal later this month, Sir Declan stressed: "As matters stand the (his) evidence needs to take into account the trial evidence, including that of Brenda Rankin that she made a call at or about the material time which was not answered.

"If there's no challenge to that, as there is not at this stage, the expert will have to deal with that as a fact which is an accepted fact."

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