Case against pharmacist for killing neighbour ‘overwhelming’

Karen Walsh
Karen Walsh

The case against a pharmacist jailed for battering her elderly neighbour to death with a crucifix was “overwhelming”, the Court of Appeal heard on Thursday.

Senior judges were told “compelling” evidence of Karen Walsh’s guilt has left her challenge to the guilty verdict without any merit.

Walsh, 48, is seeking to overturn her conviction for murdering Maire Rankin in the early hours of Christmas Day 2008.

The 81-year-old victim was found dead in the bedroom of her Dublin Road home in Newry, Co Down.

Mrs Rankin, a devout Catholic, had suffered up to 15 broken ribs and been beaten with a crucifix given to her as a wedding gift.

Evidence of a sexual assault – thought to have been carried out to cover the killer’s tracks – was also discovered.

Walsh is currently serving a minimum 20-year prison sentence for carrying out the deadly attack.

She had worked in Dublin but often stayed at a house she owned next door to the victim.

During her trial, the prosecution claimed she arrived at Mrs Rankin’s home already drunk and with a bottle of vodka.

It was alleged that the mother of one then flew into a rage and attacked the pensioner after being chastised about her drinking and told to go home to her young son.

Despite being found guilty of murder Walsh continues to protest her innocence.

Her legal team claim the trial judge failed to properly direct the jury on key areas about the time of death, differences in DNA samples, issues around Walsh’s level of intoxication and on the intentions of whoever was responsible.

On day two of the appeal hearing Frank O’Donoghue QC, for Walsh, emphasised the case being made by his client.

“She is entirely innocent of touching Mrs Rankin in any way,” he told the court.

“Any submissions on the issue of intention are in relation to the charge made to the jury and should not be interpreted in any way to suggest a different case is being made on the appellant’s behalf to that which was the case at trial.”

Dressed in a navy cardigan and trousers, Walsh showed no emotion as she sat beside a prison guard throughout the hearing.

Developing his complaints about directions given to the jury, Mr O’Donoghue claimed there was a lack of proper guidance on the case being made by the prosecution.

He told the three appeal judges: “The failure on the part of the court to direct on the issue of intention, both in relation to intoxication and/or on the issue of the time and circumstances (of death) renders the conviction unsafe.”

A further ground of appeal centred on how a series of lies attributed to Walsh were handled at trial.

Mr O’Donoghue argued that because the Crown used his client’s dishonesty as evidence of her guilt in a circumstantial case, as opposed to merely reflecting on her credibility, a direction should have been given on the issue.

However, Liam McCollum QC, for the prosecution, contended that defence counsel tactically decided against seeking such a direction at trial because it would have done more harm than good to Walsh’s case.

To have stood any chance of an acquittal she had to hope the jury would decide she was telling the truth about having nothing to do with the murder, he pointed out.

Increased focus on Walsh’s dishonesty would have significantly undermined her defence, according to Mr McCollum.

The barrister insisted: “The prosecution position is that there’s absolutely no merit in any of the arguments presented by the appellant.

“Against that background the case presented to the jury was an overwhelming one, the evidence was very compelling and no matter what conclusion might be drawn about the various arguments, standing back and looking at all the evidence Your Lordships will still be satisfied the verdict is safe.”

The appeal continues.