In the Media

Woman who battered neighbour with crucifix jailed for 20 years

PUBLISHED October 28, 2011

Karen Walsh has been convicted of murder, for killing 81-year-old Maire Rankin in her home on Christmas day 2008 A pharmacist who battered her 81-year-old next door neighbour with a crucifix in a drunken rage has been jailed for a minimum of 20 years. Karen Walsh, 45, who had been drinking from a bottle of vodka, lashed out at Maire Rankin at her home in the early hours of Christmas Day 2008. She struck her in the face and left the defenceless grandmother with eight broken ribs on either side of her chest, Belfast crown court heard. The judge, Mr Justice Hart, said Walsh did not intend to kill and had tried to resuscitate Rankin, who had been suffering with breathing difficulties. But then she sexually assaulted her to make it look as if an intruder had broken in. Marks from the crucifix, which Rankin, a devout Catholic who had been too ill to attend Christmas Eve Mass, had been given as a wedding present, were found on her head and face. Walsh was convicted of murder by a jury earlier this month. She told police she left Rankin's home in Newry, Co Down, before the attack took place. But Mr Justice Hart said: "She inflicted a further degradation upon Mrs Rankin by removing her clothing and then sexually molesting her in order to make it look as is an intruder had broken in and attacked Mrs Rankin after the defendant had left." He said Walsh, who sat stony-faced with her hands clasped, must serve a minimum of 20 years before she could be considered for release. Walsh never explained why she attacked her neighbour, but the judge said the attack arose spontaneously. The court had been told earlier by Liam McCollum QC, prosecuting, that Rankin upbraided Walsh for drinking and not being at home with her child. Walsh became angry and lost control of herself. The judge said the long sentence was justified, adding that Rankin - an elderly, frail, defenceless and vulnerable woman - had been the victim of a sustained and brutal attack by a intelligent and otherwise responsible mother. He said: "The exceptional vulnerability of Mrs Rankin and the deliberately degrading way in which she was treated after her death mean that the minimum term must be a severe one to reflect the gravity of this truly heinous crime." Walsh ran a pharmacy business in Dublin but spent weekends in Newry with her husband and young son. Outside the court Rankin's eldest daughter, Emily, a university lecturer, said Walsh deserved the 20 years in prison, adding: "She is a dangerous woman." Crime Northern Ireland © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds