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Man gets life sentence 30 years after murdering a pensioner and setting her home on fire

John Joseph Malone murdered 69-year-old Ann ‘Nancy’ Smyth in 1987.

The Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin.
The Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin.
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

A ‘COLD CASE’ investigation has solved a 30-year-old murder after a jury returned a guilty verdict against a man for strangling an elderly woman to death before setting her house on fire.

John Joseph Malone (53), of Newpark, Kilkenny City was found guilty today of the murder of 69-year-old Ann ‘Nancy’ Smyth on 11 September, 1987 at her home on Wolfe Tone Street, Kilkenny.

The Central Criminal Court jury of seven men and five women returned their unanimous verdict after three hours and 26 minutes of deliberating. The foreman of the jury confirmed the verdict was unanimous.

Malone, who was on bail when the trial began, had his bail revoked last week after he was seen shouting abuse at the home of 81-year-old Eileen Kelly days before she was due to give evidence against him.

After the guilty verdict was revealed Justice Patrick McCarthy delayed sentencing to allow Smyth’s family to make a statement to the court.

Awaiting his sentence, Malone wept and was comforted by members of his family.

When the court resumed Desmond Murphy, a nephew of the deceased, choked back tears to tell the court:

What happened to Nancy on that night had a major effect on all members of our family.

He said it was wonderful to get to this moment. “Closure is there,” he said.

Justice Patrick McCarthy then asked Malone to stand and he told him: “The law prescribes only one sentence and that is imprisonment for life. I hereby impose that sentence upon you.”

Thanking the jurors, he exempted them from further service for ten years.

The investigation into Smyth’s death received a boost in 2012 when, following an appeal for information that was recommended by the Serious Crime Review Team, several witnesses came forward.

Each of them told gardai that Malone, the chief suspect, had confessed to Nancy Smyth’s murder.

Evidence

The trial heard that, on the night Smyth was killed, Malone was drinking in a pub in Kilkenny City and left around midnight.

Instead of going home he walked to Wolfe Tone Street where he was seen by several witnesses acting suspiciously. One neighbour, Geraldine Brennan, heard him banging on Smyth’s door and window and shouting: “Let me into the fucking house. I just want to fucking talk to you.”

At one stage he said: “I’ll fucking get you.”

Brennan went outside and saw Malone kick Nancy’s door, bang her window and slam her gate. She described him as “angry and agitated”.

In the early hours of the morning of 11 September, hours after Malone was heard threatening Smyth, smoke was seen coming from Smyth’s home.

When emergency services arrived they found the 69-year-old and her Labrador dead inside the burning house.

A pathologist’s report showed that she had died from strangulation before the fire was lit.

She had also suffered a bruise to her scalp which could have been caused by a blow or by falling backwards against something hard.

Further trauma to her mouth suggested she had been struck or had a hand held over her face. Gardai started a murder investigation.

Read: UK judge sacked for ‘abusive’ comments on news articles about his cases >

Read: ‘A very dangerous man has been put away’ – family of murdered Anna Finnegan speak of their relief at verdict >

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Eoin Reynolds

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