A CONVICTED loyalist terrorist has been told he must serve another 16 years behind bars for the sectarian killing of a Catholic teenager 40 years ago.
But, as the Belfast Daily revealed last month, Robert James Shaw Rodgers will be free in less than two years under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Under the agreement, anyone convicted of a murder before it was signed will only have to serve 24 months.
Rodgers, 59, of Tierney Gardens in Belfast showed no emotion on Friday as Mr Justice Mark Horner QC sentenced him for what he called the “planned and premeditated sectarian murder of an innocent Catholic girl”.
However, his supporters branded the conviction a disgrace after the file was re-opened by ‘Waking The Dead’ detectives from the Historical Enquiries Team.
Shaw’s victim was Eileen Doherty who, after visiting her fiancee Alec McManus on the Ormeau Road in September 1973, went to get a taxi back to west Belfast.
Eileen, 19, was waiting for her taxi in a depot when two men turned up and all three ended up being driven across town by the taxi firm owner John Sherry.
However, as the Chrysler car drove along the Annadale Embankment, one of the men put a gun to Mr Sherry’s head and hijacked the car.
Eileen and Mr Sherry ran for their lives, but the two men chased after them.
The court was told that one gunman grabbed Eileen by the arm and shot her at point blank range, once in the head and twice in her body.
The hijacked taxi was found the following day at Fountainville Street and fingerprint experts managed to find two palm prints on the inside rear passenger window and steering wheel respectively.
The prints were preserved for 40 years and in 2010, were matched to Rodgers.
Mr Justice Horner said Eileen Doherty must have been “scared witless” after Rodgers and his accomplice “hunted down their prey.”
He spoke of how her family described her in victim impact statements as full of life and without a bigoted bone in her body, a girl who had been gunned down in the prime of her life.
The family said Miss Doherty’s father visited her grave at least once a day until his death two years ago.
The judge said her father’s life – and the lives of his family – had been “changed utterly” by the killing.
He said there were no mitigating circumstances and although Rodgers didn’t pull the trigger, he had driven the hijacked taxi after Miss Doherty knowing there was going to be only one outcome if, and when, she was caught.
Mr Justice Horner said he had been told Rodgers was a changed man, who was committed to the peace process, but he added that the accused’s actions during his trial belied the claims.
He said he had put Miss Doherty’s family through more pain by pleading not guilty to the murder.
The judge added that it wasn’t for him to take into account the early release scheme under the Good Friday Agreement and he sentenced Rodgers to serve at least 16 years in prison.
A lawyer for Rodgers said he was maintaining his innocence and would be appealing his conviction.
The court was told that the year after Miss Doherty’s murder, Rodgers carried out the sectarian murder of a north Belfast youth and, in 1975, he was jailed for life.
Outside court, with Miss Doherty’s relatives surrounding him, Detective Chief Inspector John McVea said no sentence was going to be long enough for the victim’s family – but he was pleased that they have had some degree of justice for Rodgers’ ruthless and brutal sectarian actions.
The PSNI Serious Crime Branch detective said the family were the only ones serving a true life sentence having suffered for 40 years.
William ‘Plum’ Smith, from the ex-prisoners group EPIC, was in court and said: “What we have witnessed here is a gross miscarriage of justice of an innocent man.”
He added that the proceedings had stretched the boundaries of justice and credibility to the levels of “a TV detective show.”