Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Telecommunications expert reverses opinion during Walsh appeal

A telecommunications expert called in by lawyers representing convicted murderer Karen Walsh, dramatically reversed his opinion that three calls made to a pensioner’s home after she was battered to death with a crucifix were probably answered.

Walsh’s defence team had enlisted John Tarpey as part of their case that someone else could have been in Maire Rankin’s house shortly after she was killed. They had contended that the phone records held within a police intelligence unit were not properly disclosed at trial and claimed this potentially undermined the prosecution case that no-one but Karen Walsh was in the victim’s home that morning.

However, after studying phone billing records, Mr Tarpey told the Court of Appeal on Tuesday last that his view has now shifted from initially thinking the calls were most likely picked up.

He said: “I can’t be sure they were answered and, on the balance of probabilities, they probably weren’t answered.”

When he was pressed further on his opinion, Mr Tarpey described his belief as being on the boundary between a probability and a strong probability.

Despite the telecommunication expert’s assessment, Walsh’s defence barrister claimed the original trial process had been so flawed that her conviction for murdering Mrs Rankin in the early hours of Christmas Day 2008 should be overturned.

Frank O’Donoghue QC argued that misdirections to the jury rendered the verdict unsafe – even if it is concluded that “an abundance of evidence” points to her guilt.

As three senior judges reserved their decision in the appeal they were urged to order a retrial.

Karen Walsh is currently serving a minimum 20 year jail term for killing 81 year old Mrs Rankin in a horrific attack that sent shockwaves throughout the district.

The pensioner was found dead in her home on Christmas Day in 2008.  She had been beaten with a crucifix and sexually assaulted.  Devout Catholic Mrs Rankin also suffered 15 broken ribs in the frenzied attack.

Walsh, who  worked as a pharmacist in Dublin, but often stayed at the property she owned next door to Mrs Rankin was later found guilty of her murder.

During her trial the prosecution alleged that on the night of the murder Walsh 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 pensioner for leaving her son and husband on Christmas Eve, the prosecution claimed that Mrs Walsh became enraged, grabbed the crucifix and beat her victim, staging the subsequent sexual assault to cover up her alleged crime.

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

As her four-day appeal hearing drew to a close in Belfast, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, Lord Justice Gillen and Mr Justice Deeny were also told the jury had been misdirected on points about DNA evidence, the intention of whoever carried out the attack, and Walsh’s level of intoxication.

“This is far from a clear-cut murder case,” the defence barrister claimed.

“The issue of specific intention against what appears to be wholly erratic behaviour by a middle-aged woman consuming a considerable amount of neat vodka has not been addressed.

“Nor was the possibility of different injuries occurring to the deceased at different times, if one accepts the prosecution case that this lady was in this house on more than one occasion.”

Mr O’Donoghue insisted: “This verdict is unsafe and if that’s the case ought to be retried.”

However, Liam McCollum QC, prosecuting, referred the judges to his earlier submissions that the evidence against Walsh was overwhelming.

Referring to the issue of the telephone calls, he added: “To suggest there could be any conclusion other than the phone was answered is untenable.”

Following closing submissions Justice Sir Declan Morgan confirmed judgment was being reserved.