A convicted child killer who served a life sentence for murdering a 13-year-old girl has been convicted of sexually abusing two young people.
James Junior McKinstry Craig — who was handed a 21-year sentence in September 1998 for murdering schoolgirl Sonia Forsythe — was convicted for historic sex offences following a two-week trial at Belfast Crown Court.
The jury was sworn in last week and were not told about Craig’s previous conviction. The trial was the subject of a reporting restriction which was lifted after the verdicts were reached.
As one member could not continue due to medical reasons, after deliberating for around four hours the remaining jurors of four men and seven women returned guilty verdicts on Thursday on five charges committed against two children in the late 80s and early 90s.
The 49-year-old father-of-one was remanded into custody following the unanimously guilty verdicts, and will be sentenced for the offences on March 18.
The verdict marks the second time Craig has been convicted by a jury at Belfast Crown Court. In May 1998 he was found guilty of murdering Sonia Forsythe, who went missing in the Shankill area of Belfast in June 1991.
After beating the teenager to death with a poker in his Sydney Street West flat, Craig then hid her body in his coalbunker for almost five years, before her remains were discovered by workmen in April 1996.
Despite his denials, he was convicted by a jury and a 21-year sentence was imposed.
He was released and was living in Edward Street in Portadown, but was recalled to custody following allegations made by two women who said they were sexually abused by Craig as children.
Following the allegations, Craig was charged with seven counts of sexual abuse against two young girls in the late 80s and early 90s.
He denied four counts of indecent assault and three counts of gross indecency committed against the girls, one of whom was aged between five and eight, and the other when she was aged seven to nine.
During the trial, both complainants gave evidence — as did Craig himself.
The first victim, who is now 40, recalled being sexually abused by Craig and on one occasion, he told her “if you do this, I will give you money for ice cream.”
As she gave evidence, the woman revealed she went to the police in September 2016, when she made a formal complaint. She told the jury “I knew what he was doing was wrong” and that she used to “tremble” with fear.
Craig’s second victim, who is now 38, was also abused by Craig as a child — both in his flat where Sonia was killed and in his car.
In the witness box, she said she “cried for my Mummy”, and that the abuse has left her with nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks. She recalled being taken by Craig in his car to wasteground at Ballysillan Leisure, where she was abused.
Last week Craig was called to the witness box, where he denied the abuse. As each of the woman’s allegations was put to him, he either replied “that didn’t happen” or “that’s made up".
Craig denied being sexually attracted to young girls, and when asked about the claims made by the two complainants, he replied “none of them happened.”
He denied the second complainant was ever in his car, and when asked about a specific incident of alleged abuse in the vehicle, Craig said “it just didn’t happen".
Craig was also asked if he had ever acted in an inappropriate way towards either of the girls, and responded by saying “not at all". He accused them of making up the allegations, and said “none of it’s true".
During the trial, Craig’s defence team told the jury that the women were lying, that the abuse did not happen and that Craig was innocent.
These suggestions — along with Craig’s evidence — were rejected by the jury, who returned "guilty" verdicts on two counts of indecent assault and three counts of gross indecent. They returned "not guilty" verdicts on two specimen charges of indecent assault.
After returning the verdicts, the 11 jury members were thanked by Judge Stephen Fowler QC for the “careful attention” they gave to the case — especially during the Covid emergency.
The judge then remanded Craig into custody for the sex offences, and said he would sentence him next month.
At a tariff hearing that took place in September 1998 after Craig was convicted of murder, Lord Chief Justice Kerr said Craig — who chose not to give evidence at that trial — “has not expressed remorse for the dreadful crime".
The Judge also noted at the tariff hearing: “There is no clear evidence that there was a sexual motivation for the killing, although there must have been a strong suspicion that the young victim was sexually maltreated before she was murdered.”