Loyalist jailed for killing Catholic teen 'had propensity to sectarian killings'
A loyalist jailed for murdering a Catholic teenager 40 years ago had a propensity to sectarian killings, the Court of Appeal held today.
Setting out reasons for dismissing Bobby Rodgers' bid to overturn his conviction for the 1973 murder of Eileen Doherty, senior judges pointed to his shooting of another Catholic man 12 months later.
Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan ruled that a strong case had been established against him which went well beyond speculation.
He said: "This was an attack which had all the hallmarks of a sectarian murder in which the aim was to kill a Roman Catholic.
"The murder committed in 1974 was carried out for exactly the same reason."
Ms Doherty, 19, was shot dead as she returned home to west Belfast after visiting her fiance.
The taxi she was travelling in was hijacked by gunmen on the Annadale embankment.
Rodgers, 59, of Tierney Gardens, Belfast, was charged following a review of available evidence by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET).
His prints were found to have matched those lifted from the taxi.
He denied the murder but was convicted following a non-jury trial in February this year.
Although he was not suspected of firing the fatal shots, he was found guilty of a joint enterprise to murder.
He received a life sentence with a 16-year prison tariff for her murder, but could still be freed in early 2015 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
Rodgers has already served 17 years in prison for the killing of a Catholic man a year later.
Ciaran McElroy, 18, was shot a number of times in September 1974 on Park End Street, Belfast.
Rodgers was convicted and jailed for his murder in 1975.
His challenge to being found guilty of Ms Doherty's murder centred on the decision to let the later killing feature as so-called bad character evidence at his trial.
His lawyers contended there were insufficient similarities between the two cases and claimed the prosecution case was weak.
But Sir Declan, sitting with Lord Justices Higgins and Girvan, identified an active participation in a sectarian attack close in time to the killing of Ms Doherty.
"That was sufficient to establish that the conviction in 1975 illustrated a propensity to commit a sectarian murder of this kind," he said.
Further defence arguments on the prints and their location in the taxi were also rejected.
Sir Declan confirmed: "The palm prints, the bad character evidence and the failure of the appellant to give evidence constituted more than sufficient material to justify this conviction."
Belfast Telegraph Digital