By Q Radio News
Two families had to be kept apart by police in the public gallery of Belfast Crown Court today (Thursday) after a jury found three cousins guilty of charges arising from murder.
Stephen Carson (28) died after he was shot in the head in the downstairs bathroom of his Walmer Street home on the evening of February 25th, 2016. Also present when he was murdered were his fiancee and nine-year old son.
Following a month-long trial, two men - cousins Michael 'Spud' Smith (40) and David 'Dee' Smith (34) - were found guilty 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 by the Paroles Commission.
Francis Smith - who the jury was ordered to acquit 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 a wardrobe in Francis Smith's flat 25 hours after the fatal shooting. Despite his denials, the 42-year old from Glenmurray Court in Belfast was found guilty of four charges.
These charges include 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.
Despite pointing out that Francis Smith has been on bail for some time, his 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 unanimously guilty verdicts, they were thanked by Judge Miller for performing their civil duty in such a dedicated manner. Branding the trial as "lengthy, harrowing and one fraught with a lot of emotion", they were thanked then discharged by the Judge.
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, and would prompt him to clear the court.
As the first guilty verdict was passed, Mr Carson's mother and fiancee started to cry. As the rest of the verdicts were passed, there was very little reaction from the public gallery.
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, who gave evidence in the trial, 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, and that the pain of his loss got harder every day.
Michael, David and Francis Smith were told a sentence hearing will be held on December 20th.