Belfast Telegraph

Loyalist jailed for brutal 1973 Fusco killing may serve just two years

By Paul Higgins

A loyalist hitman has been jailed for life after he was convicted of a “cold-blooded assassination” almost 40 years ago.

However, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, Robert Clarke (58) is likely to |be released after just two years |in custody.

A Belfast Crown Court judge said there was no innocent explanation for fingerprints belonging to Clarke being found on the door which Alfredo |Fusco was cowering behind when he was killed.

“Standing back from all the evidence I am left satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that the defendant left his prints on the store door on the evening of February 3, 1973 whilst acting as the gunman who killed Mr Fusco,” said Mr Justice McLaughlin.

New fingerprint technology had allowed the Historical Enquiries Team to reopen the case and identify Clarke as the gunman.

Speaking after the case, lead senior investigator Chris Symonds said: “Mr Fusco's family have |waited many years for this new technology to allow them to see |justice for their loved-one today and we would hope that today's events would offer some small comfort to them.”

The judge said that given how Mr Fusco (56) struggled to keep the store door closed as the gunman tried to force his way in, “the close proximity from which the rounds were fired” and the fact the gunman swapped weapons with his accomplice after the machine-gun jammed, he was led inevitably to the conclusion that the gunman could have had no other intention but to kill his victim”.

Clarke, of Dundrod Road, Nutts Corner, Co Antrim, remained motionless in the dock as the judge convicted him of murder and of possessing the Sterling sub-machine-gun and a Webley revolver used in the attack.

During the trial the court heard that two gunmen went to Mr Fusco's fish and chip and ice cream shop on the York Road in Belfast just before 7pm on the night of the murder.

Realising what was happening, Mr Fusco ran to the storage area of the shop chased by the man with the machine-gun. However, the weapon jammed, so he ran back to the front door where his accomplice was standing guard and swapped guns.

The assassin went back to the store door, which was being held closed by a crouching Mr Fusco. A woman who worked in the cafe saw the gunman trying to push it open with his hands.

Unable to force the door open, the gunman shot through the door twice, both bullets hitting Mr Fusco in the head. He then pried the door open far enough to shoot the prone Mr Fusco in the back.

The police examination of the scene uncovered several live and spent bullets as well as fingerprints found on the door leading into the store. The door was later removed and taken to the forensic lab for further investigation, but eventually lost.

Prints taken from the door were compared with prints taken from Clarke in August 2009 when the case was reopened. They were found to match his left palm and left index finger.

Giving evidence to the court, fingerprint expert Denis |Thompson said he had “no doubt these imprints were made by |the defendant”.

Evidence was given that in |November 1971 two fingers of Clarke's right hand were amputated and so he could not have been the gunman.

However, Clarke was allowed to handle both weapons in front of the judge in open court and Mr Justice McLaughlin said he was satisfied “that with some accommodation in the position of his right hand, he is presently able to fire a Webley (revolver)”.

Coming to his guilty verdicts, the judge concluded: “Not only did he fire directly into the head of the deceased, causing fatal injuries, but I am satisfied that he fired a further shot hitting the victim when he was lying helpless on the ground.

“In those circumstances I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant fired |at Mr Fusco with the direct intention of killing him.”

Imposing the mandatory life sentence and remanding Clarke into custody, the judge said he would sentence him on April 1.

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