Carson gun killing: two families clash after guilty verdict
Two families had to be kept apart by police in the public gallery of Belfast Crown Court yesterday after a jury found three cousins guilty in connection to a gun murder.
Stephen Carson (28) died after he was shot in the head in the downstairs bathroom of his Walmer Street home in south Belfast on February 25, 2016.
Mr Carson's fiancee and nine-year old son were in the house at the time.
After a month-long trial, two men - cousins Michael Smith (40) and David Smith (34) - were convicted of murdering Mr Carson. Michael Smith was also found guilty of possessing a sawn-off shotgun with intent to commit murder.
Both men, who have addresses in Monagh Drive, were handed life sentences following the unanimous verdicts.
Judge Geoffrey Miller QC told them: "You have each been convicted by a jury of the charge of murder, and there is only one sentence this court can pass upon you, and that is one of life imprisonment."
Judge Miller told them that a sentence hearing will take place next month to determine the minimum time they will spend in prison before they are considered eligible for release.
Francis Smith (42) - who was acquitted of murder - was convicted of four other offences arising from Mr Carson's murder after the murder weapon and cartridges were found in a holdall in a wardrobe in his flat 25 hours after the fatal shooting.
These charges include assisting offenders by allowing his premises to be used for the storing of firearms and ammunition used in the course of murder, and possessing both the shotgun and ammunition in suspicious circumstances.
Despite pointing out that Francis Smith has been on bail for some time, his barrister was informed by Judge Miller that a custodial sentence was "inevitable" and he was remanded in custody.
Describing the trial as "lengthy, harrowing and one fraught with a lot of emotion", the seven men and five women of the jury were thanked then discharged by the judge after their unanimous verdicts were delivered.
Earlier, Judge Miller had addressed the families and friends of Mr Carson and the Smiths as they sat in the public gallery divided by police officers.
Judge Miller warned that any outbursts would not be tolerated, and would prompt him to clear the court.
As the first guilty verdict was passed, Mr Carson's mother and fiancee started to cry. As the rest of the verdicts were passed, there was little reaction from the public gallery.
However, after both the judge and jury left the court, and as the three Smith cousins were being handcuffed and led from the dock, the families of the deceased and the accused became involved in a heated verbal altercation, and had to be kept apart by police officers.
As she was leaving court, Mr Carson's mother Bernadette Murphy, who gave evidence in the trial, said that while she was happy with the verdict, it would not bring her son back. She also said her son was missed every day, and that the pain of his loss got harder every day.
Michael, David and Francis Smith were told a sentence hearing will be held on December 20.
When the trio were arrested in the days after Mr Carson's murder, all three refused to answer police questions. During the trial, the only defendant to give evidence was David Smith, who repeatedly denied he had anything to do with the shotgun murder.
However, it was the Crown's case that the motive for Mr Carson's murder dated back to a violent incident in Turf Lodge in 2010, when Michael Smith sustained a significant wound to his arm.
Involved in this altercation were Mr Carson, Kieran McManus and a third man.
Mr McManus (26) was shot dead outside a Domino's Pizza in west Belfast in March 2013, while Mr Carson was shot in his home in the Ormeau area three years later.
During the trial, the jury heard the final 999 call made by Mr Carson from the downstairs bathroom before he was shot in the head.
They also heard evidence from his fiancee and son who were at home when two men burst into their living room.
After demanding to know where Mr Carson was, the gunman - who the Crown said was Michael Smith - walked through the kitchen to the bathroom, where he fired a single shot through the door at close range.
While this was going on a second intruder, who the Crown said was David Smith, stayed in the living room with Mr Carson's fiancee and son.
As soon as she heard her son had been shot, Mr Carson's mother blamed the Smith family and said at the hospital that night "they said they would get him and they did".