A Belfast man killed in a house in the Ormeau area of the city was shot “from a range of less than two metres”, a jury has heard.
Stephen Carson died after being blasted in the head through the door of the downstairs bathroom in his Walmer Street home in February 2016.
Mr Carson – who had traces of drugs indicative of heroin use in his system when he died – was making a 999 call to police when the fatal shot was fired.
A jury of seven men and five women at Belfast Crown Court heard evidence from the former deputy state pathologist of Northern Ireland, who carried out a post-mortem on the remains of the 28-year-old.
Dr Alistair Bentley confirmed he conducted the autopsy on Saturday February 27, 2016 – two days after Mr Carson’s death.
When asked to comment on Mr Carson’s death, from the witness box Dr Bentley said: “Death was due to a gunshot wound to his head.
“There was a gunshot entry wound on the left side of the scalp towards the front of the head. This has passed from left to right, causing extensive fracturing of the skull, with a very severe injury to the brain, which caused death.”
Dr Bentley also spoken of abrasions and grazing to Mr Carson’s head, which the expert attributed as being caused by splinters from the door.
The jury has already heard that Mr Carson sustained the fatal shot while crouched or leaning against the door.
The pathologist said the presence of the door would have affected the spread of pellets from the shotgun. Another significant factor, Dr Bentley said, was the presence in the head wound of the wad from the shotgun cartridge, which he said “indicated a relatively close range discharge of this gun of a few metres”.
The abrasions caused by the splinters and the presence of the plastic wad led Dr Bentley to “tentatively suggest a range of less than two metres”.
When asked what he did with the pellets and plastic wad, Dr Bentley said: “They were handed over to a crime scene investigator.”
Dr Bentley also confirmed he took a blood sample from the deceased for a toxicology report. He confirmed the tests were negative for alcohol, but there was the presence of several drugs including morphine, methadone, diazepam and a substance not prescribed in the UK, namely phenazepam which is used mainly in Russia.
When asked what the presence of some of these substances indicated, Dr Bentley said: “Heroin use.”
Three west Belfast cousins – David ‘Dee’ James Francis Smith, 35, from Monagh Drive, 39-year-old Michael ‘Spud’ Lawrence Smith also from Monagh Drive, and 42-year-old Francis Gerard Patrick Smith from Glenmurray Court – have all been charged with, and deny, murdering Mr Carson.
Michael Smyth has also been charged with, and denied, possessing a firearm with intent to commit murder, while Francis Smith also denies possessing both a firearm, and ammunition, in suspicious circumstances.
The Crown says the motive for Mr Carson’s death was linked to a violent altercation in the Turf Lodge area of the city dating back to 2010.