A pharmacist jailed for battering her elderly neighbour to death with a crucifix can introduce fresh evidence to support claims someone else may have been in the victim’s home shortly after she was killed, the Court of Appeal has ruled.
Senior judges granted permission for Karen Walsh’s legal team to rely on expert opinion that three telephone calls made to Maire Rankin’s house within 45 minutes of the latest estimated time of her death were probably answered.
Lawyers for Walsh, 48, argue that the material was not properly made available at her trial and could undermine the prosecution case.
She is seeking to overturn her conviction for murdering Mrs 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.
As part of her appeal defence lawyers have obtained a telecommunications expert whose opinion is that three calls to Mrs Rankin’s in a 15-minute period either side of 10am on Christmas morning were answered.
Frank O’Donoghue QC, for Walsh, contended that the phone records held within a police intelligence unit were not properly disclosed at trial.
Seeking permission to have the material admitted into the appeal on Thursday, he claimed it potentially undermines the prosecution case that no-one but his client was in the victim’s home that morning.
Liam McCollum QC, prosecuting, claimed the new evidence was of no help to Walsh because it was impossible to prove whether the calls were answered.
He pointed out that the victim’s daughter Brenda gave evidence at trial about making several calls to her mother that morning that went unanswered.
Calling for the defence to spell out their case, Mr McCollum added: “What exactly are you alleging? You can’t just float things and say that looks very mysterious.”
Responding to his query, Lord Justice Gillen explained: “Somebody was in the house other than the accused and could that person have been the person responsible for the murder. That’s what their case is.”
The three judges, headed by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, ruled that it was in the interests of justice to admit the evidence.
The telecommunications expert is now due to testify at the appeal later this month.