Belfast Crown Court: Cousins who shot man in the head with a shotgun given minimum term of 20 years imprisonment

Crown Court
Crown Court

Two men who were found guilty of the murder of a man in South Belfast have been given minimum terms of 20 years imprisonment, and another man has been sentenced to seven-and-a-half years for assisting them by hiding the shotgun in his bedroom.

Describing how the men who went to the deceased’s home were armed with pepper-spray to subdue the deceased’s child and fiancé, His Honour Geoffrey Miller said that the murder had been executed “with chilling and clinical efficiency”.


The Court heard that the Smith family engaged in a campaign of intimidation and threats against Stephen Carson since 2012, when he was involved in an altercation with Michael Smith, and that as a result of their behaviour Mr Carson had to move from his home in West Belfast.

In February 2016, Cousins David Smith, Michael Smith, and Francis Smith were together. That evening, David and Michael, along with two other men, went to Mr Carson’s home in South Belfast and forced their way into the property. Michael was armed with a sawn-off shotgun, and David was armed with a hammer.

Mr Carson’s fiancé and nine-year-old son were also in the property at the time.

Michael assaulted Mr Carson’s fiancé, and David sprayed her and the 9-year-old boy in the face with incapacitate spray, before locating Mr Carson in the bathroom where he was on the phone to police “begging for assistance”.

Michael shot Mr Carson in the head at close range through the bathroom door, and the men left the property.

Francis Smith was arrested the following day when the gun and ammunition were discovered in a bag in his wardrobe

Francis Smith

Francis was acquitted of murder; however, he was unanimously convicted of four charges related to possession of the sawn-off shot gun used to kill Mr Carson.

The Court heard that Francis had a history of alcohol abuse and presented “more of a threat to himself… than to the general public”. He had 33 previous convictions, mostly dating back to his youth – with dishonesty, fraud and motoring offences making up the bulk of the record. Judge Miller said that the present charges were the most serious and marked a “significant upturn in his offending behaviour”.

Based upon factors including his failure to consider the consequences of his offending behaviour together with his previous alcohol misuse and negative peer associations, Francis was assessed  as presenting a medium likelihood of re-offending.

Judge Miller said that all four counts faced by Francis arose from the single find of the of the gun and associated ammunition – and therefore should run concurrently. Judge Miller said that the minimum sentence for possession of a handgun without a certificate was five years, and the maximum for assisting an offender (where the primary offence carried a life sentence) was ten years.

Judge Miller said that it was clear that when the shotgun was placed in Francis’ bedroom, he knew the murder had taken place and this was the murder weapon. As such, he actively assisted in impeding the arrest of those involved in the actual killing – and Judge Miller said that “those who assist in the aftermath of such a crime must expect condign punishment”.

Taking into consideration that Francis had already served an 18-month sentence for possession of the Ruger rifle and ammunition, and that this sentence would likely have been made concurrent to that imposed for the present offences had they all been dealt with together, Judge Miller imposed a custodial sentence of 45 months and 45 months on licence.

David Smith & Michael Smith

David and Michael Smith were both convicted of murder and therefore must receive a sentence of life imprisonment. Judge Miller said the court was required to impose the minimum sentence before they could be considered for release on parole. Judge Miller said that the guiding principles could be found in R v McCandless & Others [2004] NICA 1.

Judge Miller said that the pre-planning, the arming in advance, and the use of the firearm were all significant factors, commenting that the murder was cold-blooded and pre-planned, and had to “be seen in the context of what might be considered as a long-running vendetta against the deceased and members of his family”.

Judge Miller said that the men “crossed town to the deceased’s home off the Ormeau Road with but one thought and intention in mind, namely to kill Mr Carson. They were armed with the sawn-off shotgun, a weapon that has no legitimate purpose or use and one, which if used at close range will inflict horrendous injuries, as was the case here”. Judge Miller added that the men “went prepared for the fact that Mr Carson would not be alone, hence David Smith was armed with the pepper spray, which he used to subdue and disable” Mr Carson’s fiancé and his nine-year-old son.

Judge Miller said that while it may not “in strict parlance, have been a professional killing, it was executed with chilling and clinical efficiency”. In all the circumstances, Judge Miller was satisfied that the case fell within the higher starting point and at the upper range of that category.  

Judge Miller added that Michael’s record of 168 convictions was “clearly indicative of someone who has failed to respond to previous sentences”. Furthermore, David’s record of 28 previous convictions involved a clear progression of offending where the last offence “involved a premeditated attack using a machete and was motivated by a family feud and revenge, factors very relevant to this case”. Judge Miller commented that David’s progressively more serious offending had not been halted by previous custodial sentences, and that his record pointed to a man “with a volatile and aggressive personality who bears grudges and exhibits deeply held resentment, something, which is at the heart of the background to this case”.

It was also noted that both Michael and David denied any involvement in the murder.

Satisfied that there were several aggravating and no mitigating factors in this case, Judge Miller imposed a minimum term of 20 years for both men, and sentenced Michael to a concurrent term of 15 years on the count of possession of a firearm with intent to commit murder.

  • by Seosamh Gráinséir for Irish Legal News

© Irish Legal News Ltd 2019

Other judgments by Judge Geoffrey Miller