04/10/2011 13:43 BST | Updated 04/12/2011 05:12 GMT

Woman Jailed For 'Crucifix Murder' Of Pensioner

An evil pharmacist who bludgeoned a defenceless pensioner with a crucifix in a violent and drunken attack has been jailed for life for murder.

Karen Walsh, 45, launched a sustained and frenzied attack on her elderly neighbour on Christmas Day 2008, pulling clumps of hair from her head and inflicting head injuries and broken ribs.

A crown of thorns left a distinctive bruise on her chin. She then sexually assaulted Maire Rankin, 81, before fleeing from the house next door to her own home in Newry, Co Down.

A jury at Belfast Crown Court found her guilty with a unanimous verdict after retiring for just under two hours at the end of the trial on Tuesday.

The victim's daughter Emily Rankin said: "She had the right to feel secure in her own home but because of her trusting nature and kindness, she was subjected to a frenzied assault and a horrific murder. She died alone - and frightened."

Mr Justice Anthony Hart warned Walsh she would serve a lengthy sentence.

"Whatever happened on that night, this was a brutal attack on an elderly and defenceless woman," he said.

Police Service of Northern Ireland Detective Inspector John Caldwell welcomed the verdict and paid tribute to the victim's family.

"They have lost Maire's company because of the terrible and depraved action of someone they trusted as a neighbour,'' he said. Maire Rankin was 81 years of age, she was highly respected. At that age she was one of the most vulnerable in our society. She desired to live in safety within the security of her own home.

"For the last three years Karen Walsh has told lies. Today the jury saw through the lies and convicted her of murder."