Two families had to be kept apart by police in the public gallery of Belfast Crown Court on Thursday after a jury found three cousins guilty of charges arising from murder.
Stephen Carson (28) died after he was shot in the head at his Walmer Street home on February 25, 2016. Also present when he was murdered were his fiancée and nine-year old son.
Following a month-long trial, two men, cousins Michael ‘Spud’ Smith (40) and David ‘Dee’ Smith (34), were convicted by a jury of murdering Mr Carson, while Michael Smith was also found guilty of possessing a sawn-off shotgun with intent to commit murder.
Both men, who have addresses in Monagh Drive, were handed life sentences following the unanimous verdicts. After asking both men to stand, Judge Geoffrey Miller QC addressed them and said: “You have each been convicted by a jury of the charge of murder, and there is only one sentence this court can pass upon you, and that is one of life imprisonment.”
Judge Miller told them that following the compilation of several reports, a sentence hearing will take place next month to determine the minimum time they will spend in prison before they are considered eligible for release.
Francis Smith, who was acquitted by direction of the judge on the murder charge, was then convicted of four offences arising from Mr Carson’s murder.
The murder weapon and cartridges were located in a holdall in a bag found in Francis Smith’s flat 25 hours after the shooting. Despite his denials, the 42-year old from Glenmurray Court in Belfast was found guilty of assisting offenders by allowing his premises to be used for the storing of firearms and ammunition used in the course of murder, and also possessing both the shotgun and ammunition in suspicious circumstances.
Francis Smith’s barrister was informed by Judge Miller that a custodial sentence was “inevitable” and he was remanded in custody.
After the jury of seven men and five women returned their verdicts, they were thanked by Judge Miller for performing their civil duty in such a dedicated manner. He described the trial as “lengthy, harrowing and one fraught with a lot of emotion”.
Before the jury was brought back to court to deliver their verdicts, Judge Miller addressed the families and friends of both Mr Carson, and the Smiths, as they sat in the public gallery divided by police officers.
Judge Miller warned that any outbursts would not be tolerated.
As the first guilty verdict was passed, Mr Carson’s mother and fiancée started to cry.
However, after both the jury and judge left the court, and as the three Smith cousins were being handcuffed and led from the dock, the families of the deceased and the accused became involved in a heated verbal altercation, and had to be kept apart by police officers.
As she was leaving court, Mr Carson’s mother Bernadette Murphy said she that while she was happy with the verdict, it would not bring her son back. She also said her son was missed every day.
Michael, David and Francis Smith were told a sentence hearing will be held on December 20.
When the trio were arrested in the days after Mr Carson’s murder, all three men refused to answer police questions. During the trial, the only defendant to give evidence was David Smith, who repeatedly denied he had anything to do with the shotgun murder.
However, it was the Crown’s case that the motive for Mr Carson’s murder dated back to a violent incident in Turf Lodge in 2010, when Michael Smith sustained a significant wound to his arm.
Involved in this altercation were Mr Carson, Kieran McManus and a third man. Mr McManus (26) was shot dead outside a Domino’s Pizza in west Belfast in March 2013, while Mr Carson was shot in his home in the Ormeau area of Belfast in three years later.
In the trial, the jury heard the final 999 call made by Mr Carson before he was shot in the head. They also heard evidence from his fiancée and son who were at home when two men burst in.
After demanding to know where Mr Carson was, the gunman, who the Crown say was Michael Smith, walked through the kitchen and to the bathroom, where he fired a single shot through the door at close range.