A LOYALIST killer was jailed for life yesterday after a judge convicted him of a "dastardly" 40-year-old sectarian murder of a Catholic teenager.
Belfast Crown Court judge Mr Justice Horner said it was "without a shadow of a doubt" that he was finding Robert Rodgers (59) guilty for his part in the September 1973 murder of Eileen Doherty in Belfast.
The 19-year-old was shot three times by gunmen who hijacked a taxi she was taking home to Andersonstown from the Ormeau Road in south Belfast after visiting her boyfriend.
Rodgers, of Tierney Gardens in Belfast, had denied murdering the teenager.
He did not answer police questions or give evidence at his trial.
Mr Justice Horner said: "Eileen Doherty was murdered because she was a Catholic who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."
The judge said that, despite the 40-year gap between the crime and the conviction, "murder is murder".
"The passage of time, whether it is five years or 55 years, in no way dilutes the seriousness of the such a crime," he said.
"A decent society requires that anyone who commits such a dastardly act should be required to answer for that crime in a court of law."
Jailing Rodgers for life, Mr Justice Horner said: "Although he did not pull the trigger of the gun that shot her dead, he was an integral part of the joint enterprise."
Throughout the 45-minute hearing Rodgers sat impassively in the dock.
Last month the no-jury trial heard that Ms Doherty had been visiting her boyfriend and had gone to get a taxi back to west Belfast on the night she was murdered.
While she was waiting for her cab, two men turned up and asked to share the cab.
As the taxi firm owner drove them across the city, the two men hijacked the car.
Ms Doherty and the cab driver ran for their lives as they were chased by the men in the car.
One witness statement read to the court described how the gunman had grabbed Ms Doherty by the arm and shot her at close range, once in the head and twice in her body.
She never regained consciousness and died early on October 1 1973, a few hours after the shooting.
The taxi was found the following day and fingerprint experts found two palm prints.
Mr Justice Horner was told how those prints had been preserved and with advances in technology the prints were matched to those taken from Rodgers when he was arrested in December 2010.
Mr Justice Horner also heard that on February 10 1975, Rodgers and another man had been jailed for life for another sectarian murder that was committed on September 25 1974.
A police statement read to the court described how Rodgers and his accomplice had been on a stolen motorbike, lying in wait at Park End Street for their victim, 18-year-old Ciaran McElroy.
Rodgers was arrested at the scene because a British army patrol had been in the area at the time.
The judge said it was thanks to technological advances that the case had been brought.
He outlined how the Historical Enquiries Team had reopened the case which was then passed to the PSNI for further investigation.
A hearing to fix Rodgers's minimum tariff was adjourned until March 15. ■ MURDER: Robert Rodgers, left, was sentenced to life in prison yesterday for the 1973 sectarian murder of Eileen Doherty, right