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Woman cleared of Coleraine pensioner's murder

The estranged wife of a 41-year-old Antrim man who admitted the unlawful killing of Coleraine pensioner Bertie Acheson , was cleared herself of the April 2012 killing today.

The 25-year-old pregnant mother of two Jennifer Toland, was cleared of the murder of the 72-year-old pensioner and robbing his disabled wife Sheila after the prosecution offered on evidence against her.

Prosecution QC Ciaran Murphy told Mr Justice Weir that they were "offering no evidence" on any of the two charges against her.

Ms Toland, originally from The Cedars, Antrim, had been expected to go on trial at Belfast Crown Court. However, following the prosecution concession, defence QC Martin O'Rourke asked that a jury be sworn and for her to be formally acquitted.

A jury of nine women and three men were duly sworn, and then directed by Mr Justice Weir that since no evidence was being offered against Ms Toland, that they should find her 'Not Guilty' of the murder and robbery charges.

Following her acquittal, and in a statement issued through her solicitors Maddan and Finucan, Ms Toland thanked the jury, and was "grateful that the ordeal of this court case is concluded with her good character intact and the allegations against her, finally dismissed".

The statement also read that the "complex prosecution case" against her had involved "DNA evidence which we were able to successfully challenge".

Last month the murder charge against her estranged husband Paul James Manolito Toland, also originally of The Cedars, Antrim, was dropped after he pleaded guilty to Mr Acheson's manslaughter and taking £335 from his disabled wife's purse.

Toland is currently in custody and is expected to be sentenced early next month.

While Mr Acheson's daughter Sandra, supported by her husband and a few friends had been in court for Toland's manslaughter plea, they were not present in court today (monday) for his wife's acquittal.

Previous hearings were told that DNA, allegedly from Toland, a maintenance engineer, and a father of three, was found on a brick, said to have been used to smash a window in the pensioner's Glenmore Gardens home.

A police officer had also told one hearing that Mr Acheson and his wife Sheila were woken up by the sound of breaking glass.  The pensioner went to investigate. Mrs Acheson later told police she overheard a verbal altercation between her husband and an intruder, during which money was demanded.

The officer said that Mrs Acheson further claimed she also heard the sound of a scuffle and gasping for breath. However, when she managed to raise the alarm, and ambulance personnel and police arrived, her husband, found on the kitchen floor, was already dead.

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