Jury finishes hearing evidence in Maire Rankin murder trial

October 4, 2011

By Christine Keighery

Last Thursday, the jury in the trial of Karen Walsh, the woman accused of murdering Newry pensioner Maire Rankin on Christmas Eve three years ago, finished hearing all evidence in relation to the crime.

Maire Rankin, 81, was found beaten to death in her Newry home on Christmas Day 2008.

It is the Crown Prosecution’s case that Ms Walsh is linked to the scene by DNA evidence found on the murder victim’s body and a crucifix allegedly used in the attack.  The jury heard evidence from Susan Woodroffe, DNA expert for the prosecution, that the possibility of the DNA profile found on Mrs Rankin’s chin belonging to someone other than Karen Walsh, was “less than one in one billion”.  However, she could not give similar statistical analysis for the samples taken from the victim’s breasts or the crucifix, as there was not enough DNA.   The court then heard from Professor Dan Krane, that it was a “matter of significant concern” that these statistics could not be given as, in his view, it rendered the results “inconclusive”.

Fingerprint evidence was also called into question earlier last week, when fingerprint specialist, John Brown, told the court that no prints from the accused had been found on the alleged murder weapon or on two phones and a back door key from the murdered pensioner’s home.

On the same day, another forensic specialist, William Armstrong  “completely disagreed” with the defence’s argument that a mark found on the victim’s chin could have been caused by a nebuliser mask Mrs Rankin used.  Mr Armstrong, said tests he had done had produced “strong evidence” that the wound had been caused by the figure of Jesus.

The court also heard from Karen Walsh last week, as she took to the stand to give her evidence in her own defence.

Describing the victim as a “lovely woman”, Ms Walsh said she had visited her neighbour Mrs Rankin three or four times, including on Christmas Eve.

She said “she was fine in that she was still alive” when she left and maintained throughout her evidence that she “could not have been any nicer to Mrs Rankin” .

The jury also heard Mrs Walsh claim last week  that she had asked a police officer, who called to her house at around 1.00pm on Christmas Day, if her neighbour had been “beaten” because she had seen it reported on Teletext that the death was suspicious.  A police officer confirmed that the details of the incident were only released to the media on his direction, and he had not taken that decision until 2.10pm that day.

Under cross examination from the prosecution, it was put to the accused that on the night of the murder, she had drank heavily, rowed with her husband and stormed off to Mrs Rankin’s house with a bottle of vodka. After being reprimanded by the 81year-old for leaving her son and husband on Christmas Eve, the prosecution claims that Mrs Walsh became enraged, grabbed the crucifix and beat her alleged victim, staging the subsequent sexual assault to cover up her alleged crime.

Mrs Walsh replied to these scenarios by reiterating that she could not have been nicer to Mrs Rankin.

Although all evidence was heard last week, Mr Justice Hart told the jury on Thursday, that they have yet to hear his further remarks and those of legal counsel, and warned them not to draw any conclusions until they heard closing submissions which will be heard today (Monday).