A 49-year-old man was today acquitted of involvement in the kidnapping of a neighbour who was later found shot dead.
Lurgan man Kevin Conway disappeared from his Deeney Drive home in Lurgan on February 17, 1998.
He was last seen by his wife, and was wearing a red top and slippers.
He was found by a farm worker the next day in the kitchen of a derelict house at Rock Lane, Aghalee with a single gunshot wound to the head, and still wearing his slippers.
Gary Marshall, who at the time of Mr Conway’s disappearance was staying at his mother’s home at Donnelly Gardens in Lurgan, was questioned about the killing but released without charge.
From The Beeches, Portadown, Mr Marshall was re-arrested in 2013 and accused of supplying a Vauxhall Nova used to abduct Mr Conway.
A trial commenced at Belfast Crown Court last June.
Judge Geoffrey Miller QC yesterday said the case was circumstantial, and the evidence “did not satisfy the required standard”.
He had “grave susicions Gary Marshall played some part in the disappearance of Mr Conway, or at the very least he knew far more that he is willing to admit”, but due to lack of evidence he “must be acquitted”.
He rejected allegations that there had been a deliberate attempt by police and witnesses to “tilt evidence”, but said there had been failings in the investigation.
In its case against Mr Marshall, the Crown suggested two pieces of forensic evidence linked Mr Marshall to Mr Conway’s abduction – red fibres found in the car which matched fibres from the top Mr Conway was wearing, and also debris located in the footwell of the Nova which matched debris taken from the floor of the derelict house.
Duing the trial, the court heard that when arrested on both occcasions, Mr Marshall refused to answer police questions.
He did, however, provide officers with a pre-prepared statement when he became aware fibres from Mr Conway’s shirt were found in the Nova.
In the statement, Mr Marshall claimed that on the day of his disappearance, Mr Conway had come out of his house, spoke to Mr Marshall and briefly leaned into the car to give Mr Marshall a hand to steady a car seat.
Judge Miller said this was the only explaination Mr Marshall had provided in the two decades since Mr Conway’s death, and also branded Mr Marshall’s demeanour as “stoney-faced and impassive”.
The Judge noted an absence of evidence against Mr Marshall such as Mr Conway’s blood in his car, CCTV footage of the Nova on the day of his abduction or residue from a weapon in the vehicle.
Judge Miller also spoke of deficiences in how debris samples were collected from the derelict house, the method in which the samples were stored, and the possibility of cross-contamination.
He also spoke of a failure by police to forensically examine a red overshirt which was found in Mr Marshall’s family home.
The judge said: “There is no evidence as to how he (Mr Conway) left his home, where he went, how or when he came to be at the derelict house, who brought him there or who was responsible for his brutal and senseless murder.”