A man who strangled a pensioner to death 25 years ago has been sentenced to a minimum of 19 years in prison.
Samuel Dunwoody, 52, was searching for money at her house in North Belfast and killed the widow to ensure there was no witness, a court in the city heard. He has been ordered to serve life imprisonment and it will be almost two decades before he can be considered for release.
The murderer was caught after police revisited the case and found his DNA under the fingernails of victim Margaret “Peggy” Telford, 68. He had a string of convictions for violence against women.
Judge Corinne Philpott QC said: “You killed someone who did you no harm and offered you kindness and you thought you got away with it.”
Mrs Telford was discovered strangled to death with a ligature at her home in Twaddell Avenue, North Belfast, on February 4, 1988, by a shopkeeper. A pulled-out telephone wire was lying nearby.
She also received injuries to her face and head.
A police reinvestigation was launched recently following forensic advances. Testing of DNA samples from the victim found a match with Dunwoody, from High Tower, Birmingham, in the West Midlands.
Mrs Telford’s son Peter said her family was now able to start a new life after a long wait for justice.
“It is like taking a breath of fresh air after holding your breath under water for a long time, you can breathe out,” he said.
He paid tribute to her as a nice person, quiet, good fun and generous.
The killer has a string of violent convictions for assault causing actual bodily harm and battery, including attacking the same woman three times between 1982 and 2009. He had a “dysfunctional” background and spent time in a borstal, a home for problem children, his lawyer said.
Widowed Mrs Telford knew her killer through her work - aiding him and his family and donating clothes.
The judge told the defendant: “She had shown kindness, as indeed she seems to have done with everyone who came into contact with her.
“She was going to make you tea, you found some excuse to go upstairs.”
The judge added that as the back bedroom was ransacked the victim realised everything was not quite right and during a confrontation he strangled her.
She said: “You took advantage of a 68-year-old woman who in the past had shown you kindness and you went there to steal.
“When you realised she was going to contact the authorities, you knew that your licence would be revoked and that you would have to serve another two years in prison and it is the impression of this court that you were not going to have that.”
Ciaran Murphy QC, for the prosecution, said Mrs Telford was vulnerable and trying to contact police when she was killed.
He made admissions to probation officers before sentencing, accepting responsibility but seeking to minimise his role, the prosecutor said.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) detective inspector Peter Montgomery said Dunwoody exploited her poor health and the fact that she was living alone.
“Today justice has been served for Peggy and serves as a reminder that although a large passage of time has elapsed police will regularly review cases and where there are new opportunities presented we will pursue them vigorously,” he said.