'Crucifix killer' Karen Walsh to appeal conviction
Crucifix killer Karen Walsh has lodged an appeal against her conviction for the murder of an elderly grandmother.
Last month, the Galway-born pharmacist was told she must serve a minimum of 20 years in prison for the murder of her Newry neighbour Maire Rankin (81) on Christmas morning three years ago.
The sentence handed down to Ms Walsh was one of the longest minimum jail terms for a female killer in Northern Ireland.
Walsh, a married mother of one, has now lodged an appeal against both her conviction and sentence.
The full grounds of her appeal, lodged late last week, are not yet known. But the prospect of an appeal was raised at her trial where she protested her innocence, even as the unanimous jury verdict was handed down.
Walsh, who gets free legal aid, changed her legal team on four occasions and it is understood she may have instructed a new legal team for her appeal.
The murder of Maire Rankin, a widowed mother of eight, was one of the most gruesome in Northern Ireland in recent years.
The jury heard that Walsh, who drank a litre bottle of vodka in Mrs Rankin's house, physically and sexually assaulted the pensioner with a crucifix that had been hanging on the wall.
The pharmacist used the crucifix to attack Mrs Rankin, a devout Catholic, who was using a nebuliser when she was struck on the face.
There was a mark of the crown of thorns from the cross, which had been bought as a wedding present, on Mrs Rankin's chin.
Sentencing Walsh, trial judge Mr Justice Hart said that she had inflicted "a further degradation" upon Mrs Rankin by removing her clothing and then sexually molesting her in order to make it look as if an intruder had broken in and attacked the victim after the defendant had left.
"This additional degradation represents a very serious aggravating factor in an already grave case," said the judge, who added that his sentence reflected the "exceptional vulnerability" of Mrs Rankin and the "truly heinous nature of the crime".
Walsh is serving her sentence alongside killer Jacqueline Crymble and double murderer Hazel Stewart, who were given 20- and 18-year minimum terms respectively.
Murder attracts a mandatory life term in Northern Ireland, but the minimum period that a killer must serve before being considered for release is determined by the trial judge.