TWO cousins from west Belfast who murdered father-of-two Stephen Carson in a "cold-blooded" execution will spend the next 20 years in jail before they are considered eligible for release.
Michael 'Spud' Smith (40) and David 'Dee Dee' Smith (35) - who both have addresses in Monagh Drive - shook hands in the dock of Belfast Crown Court after Judge Geoffrey Miller handed each of them a minimum 20-year sentence.
The pair were convicted by a jury of murdering Mr Carson, who died after he was shot in the head in the downstairs bathroom of his Walmer Street home on the evening of February 25, 2016. Also present when he was murdered were his fiancee Naomi Smyth and nine-year old son.
Michael Smith was also found guilty of possessing a sawn-off shotgun with intent to commit murder.
A third cousin, Francis Smith - who the jury last month was ordered to acquit by direction of the judge on the murder charge - was then convicted of four offences arising from Mr Carson's murder.
He was sentenced to seven years and six months with half to be served in jail and the remainder on supervised licence.
During today's sentence it emerged that Mr Carson's son - who is now 11 - has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. During the incident, the then nine year-old was threatened at gunpoint and was pepper-strayed.
Judge Miller described Mr Smith's murder as "an execution with chilling and clinical efficiency", and said: "I am in no doubt it has characteristics akin to a gangland execution."
It was the Crown's case that while Michael Smith was the gunman who fired a single shot from a sawn-off shotgun through a bathroom door which killed Mr Carson, David Smith stayed in the living room where he "subdued" Mr Carson's son and fiancee.
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The judge said: "This was a cold-blooded, pre-planned murder, set in the context of a long-running vendetta against the deceased and his family."
Judge Miller said they travelled from west Belfast to the Ormeau Road area "with one thought and intention in mind - namely to kill Mr Carson."
Prior to passing his sentence, Judge Miller heard Crown barrister Neil Connor QC refer to the killing as "assassination carried out with a clear intention to kill".
Mr Connor said three men "forced their way" into Mr Carson's home and murdered him whilst he was on the phone "summoning help from the police."
Regarding Francis Smith, Mr Connor said he was guilty of assisting his co-accused in the aftermath of the murder by not only providing them with shelter, but also looking after the murder weapon and ammunition.
Defence barrister Tim Moloney QC, representing David Smith, told the court he didn't agree with the Crown's assertion of an assassination. Instead, he branded the killing as "not a particularly professional exercise" which was set in a gangland context.
Mr Moloney said his client "has suffered very badly with drug addiction throughout his adult life" and has "enduring psychological problems" which led to a chaotic lifestyle.
Michael Smith's barrister, Frank O'Donoghue QC, said this client did not engage with probation ahead of sentencing as he is appealing his conviction.
He also disagreed that the murder was an assassination or contract killing, saying that cased on the Crown case "this was anything but professional ... it was wholly amateurish."
Eilis McDermott QC, representing Francis Smith, spoke of her client's former alcohol intake of up to 100 units a week, but said "clearly and happily, that is no longer the case."
The defence barrister also said that as her client was facing a significant period in prison, he has plans to "improve his situation" and intents to undertake an Open University degree.
Welcoming the sentencing PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Pete McKenna described the murder as "callous and brutal" .
“This was a premediated murder with the perpetrators leaving no forensic evidence yet these men were still put before the courts as a result of the complex, multi-faceted police investigation carried out by detectives.
"I would also like to pay tribute to Stephen’s family for their dignity, courage and unwavering commitment to seeing justice done for their loved one.
“Everyone deserves to feel safe in their home and Stephen’s murder was brutal and cold-blooded carried out by extremely dangerous men who appear to show no remorse for their actions.
"Stephen’s son and fiancée have been left extremely traumatised by the incident and their lives will never be the same again. Whilst no sentence can ever take away the pain for Stephen’s family, I hope they get some comfort from knowing that his killers are behind bars. The community is now a safer place with these men removed from our streets."