Woman jailed for crucifix murder
A pharmacist who battered her elderly next-door neighbour with a crucifix in a drunken rage has been jailed for a minimum of 20 years.
Karen Walsh, 45, who had been drinking from a bottle of vodka, lashed out as Maire Rankin used a nebuliser at her home in the early hours of Christmas Day 2008.
She struck her in the face and left the defenceless, frail and vulnerable grandmother with eight broken ribs on either side of her chest, Belfast Crown Court heard.
Mr Justice Hart said Walsh did not intend to kill and at one stage tried to resuscitate Mrs Rankin, who had been suffering with breathing difficulties. But then, using the crucifix, she sexually assaulted the 81-year-old woman, a devout Catholic who had been too ill to attend Christmas Eve Mass.
Marks from the crucifix which Mrs Rankin had been given as a wedding present were found on her head and face.
Walsh was convicted of murder by a jury earlier this month following a trial in which she protested her innocence. She claimed to police to have visited Mrs Rankin at her home at Dublin Road, Newry, Co Down, on Christmas Eve, but had left before the attack took place.
But the judge delivering his verdict said: "She inflicted a further degradation upon Mrs Rankin by removing her clothing and then sexually molesting her in order to make it look as is an intruder had broken in and attacked Mrs Rankin after the defendant had left."
Walsh, who wore a dark trouser suit with her blonde hair swept back into a ponytail, sat stony-faced with her hands clasped - just as she did throughout the trial - as Mr Justice Hart told her she must serve a minimum of 20 years in jail before she could be considered for release.
Originally from Galway, she ran a pharmacy business in Dublin and lived Monday to Friday in the city's Berkley Court Hotel. But she spent the weekends in Newry with her husband, Richard Durkin, a tax consultant, and father of their young son - next door to Mrs Rankin. He sat alone in the public gallery which was packed with more than 40 relatives and friends of Mrs Rankin.
Some wept, and outside the court Mrs Rankin's eldest daughter, Emily, a university lecturer, said Walsh deserved the 20 years in prison, adding: "She is a dangerous woman."