A 34-year-old Dublin man has been convicted of being the murderer in drag who gunned a man down with a sub-machine gun in a busy car park.
Christopher McDonald, from the East Wall area of Dublin, was found guilty of murder by unanimous jury verdict following a little over two hours of deliberation at the Central Criminal Court.
He had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Keith Walker (aged 36) at the Blanchardstown Pigeon Racing Club car park on Shelerin Road, Clonsilla, Dublin on June 12, 2015.
Christopher McDonald pictured arriving at the Criminal Courts of Justice (CCJ) on Parkgate Street in Dublin for a special sitting of the court where he was charged with the murder of Keith Walker. Pic: Paddy Cummins/PCPhoto.ie
The verdict was met with shouts and a number of people burst into tears. One man shouted: "Scumbag junkie bastard, I hope you rot."
Before Justice Patrick McCarthy sentenced McDonald to life imprisonment, the deceased’s wife Lorraine Walker and sister Michelle Walker told the court of the devastating impact the murder had on them and their family.
Lorraine described her husband as her soulmate and best friend.
They had been childhood sweethearts, together for 17 years. Her family, she said, was normal and happy until the day she received a phone call to say that her husband and the father of her two boys had been "brutally murdered".
She said one of the hardest things she has ever done was telling her children that their father was gone and would not be coming back.
"The look on their faces will never leave me," she said.
Michelle said her brother was the eldest of three siblings and his strength and love had helped the family cope with the loss of their mother in 2014.
She described him as a man of simplicity and humour, who could convert a room of strangers into a room of friends. He was a proud father and loving son who would not get to see his sons grow up.
Following those statements Justice McCarthy asked the convicted man to stand and told him: "I now sentence you to be imprisoned for life, as is required by law."
Justice McCarthy also thanked the jury for their service and exempted them from further service for 10 years.
Keith Walker was shot dead in the car park of the Blanchardstown Pigeon Racing Club as he stood chatting with fellow pigeon enthusiasts. He had arrived at the club at 5.31pm in a car belonging to his friend Jason O’Connor.
He was carrying pigeons belonging to O’Connor and the pair planned to travel to Manchester that night ahead of a weekend of racing.
O’Connor made a statement to Gardaí and was due to give evidence on day two of the trial but when he was called he lunged at the accused and was held back by prison officers and a garda.
After the jury was asked to leave the court prosecuting counsel Denis Vaughan Buckley said that McDonald had called O’Connor a "rat" and this was what sparked the spat.
As the trial continued, the jury was shown CCTV footage of a person hanging around the pigeon club car park from about 4.20pm, 40 minutes before Mr Walker arrived.
This individual was not identified in court but the prosecution case was that it was McDonald, dressed in drag, waiting to carry out the hit.
Several witnesses said they saw a man dressed in women’s gym clothes in the area, carrying a handbag and wearing a long black wig.
One witness reported him to Gardaí after she saw him hanging around a crèche beside the pigeon club.
At 6pm CCTV showed Mr Walker talking to club member Mark Kelly and at 6.01pm the hit-man entered through the main gate, pulled a gun from his handbag and opened fire before escaping the way he came.
A post mortem would reveal that the victim was hit 18 times and died from bullet wounds to his head and body.
Four days after the shooting Gardaí found the gun used to kill Keith Walker in a laneway at Sheepmoor Grove, about one kilometre from the pigeon club.
The 9mm calibre Makarov sub-machine gun was inside a brown, furry River Island handbag and alongside it were a black wig and a transparent latex glove. Forensic testing showed that McDonald’s DNA was on the wig and glove, both of which also contained traces of firearms residue. This formed the primary evidence linking McDonald to the murder.
None of the witnesses who saw the shooter on the day were asked to identify McDonald and CCTV showing the shooting was not clear enough for identification.
But the prosecution relied on the evidence of two teenage boys who met the gunman on his way to the pigeon club.
The boys said they met a man dressed in women’s clothes, with long hair and carrying a handbag. They both noted that he had a cut over his right eye and was wearing make-up.
He asked them for directions to the pigeon club and then walked away quickly, as though in a hurry.
When Gardaí arrested McDonald in the early hours of the following morning, he had a visible cut over his right eye, matching what the boys described.
Gardaí also said they saw what they believed to be make-up on his face.
In his closing speech to the jury defence counsel Bernard Condon told the six men and six women they must ask themselves what they truly know about the killing and whether the prosecution had proved beyond reasonable doubt that McDonald was the gunman in drag.
Following just over two hours of deliberation the jury reached their verdict.