A notorious Protestant extremist was convicted on 48 terror counts and sentenced to 28 years in prison on Friday following the longest criminal trial in Northern Ireland history.
William James Fulton smiled in the dock at Belfast Crown Court as Justice Anthony Hart found him guilty of killing a grandmother with a pipe bomb, wounding four police officers with a grenade, possessing firearms used for other killings, smuggling drugs and a host of other crimes.
Fulton, 38, was a former commander of the Loyalist Volunteer Force, an outlawed anti-Catholic gang based in Portadown, a hard-line Protestant town southwest of Belfast.
He was convicted, in part, because undercover police officers recorded him bragging about his crimes while on the run in England. Prosecutors presented evidence from 75 audiotapes of Fulton's conversations from 2000 to 2003.
Hart said Fulton had ordered a 1999 pipe-bomb attack on the Portadown home of Elizabeth O'Neill, a Protestant married to a Catholic. The 59-year-old died after picking up the pipe bomb thrown through her living room window.
During one surreptitious recording, Fulton described O'Neill as a "silly old bat."
Outside the courthouse, the victim's son said the Loyalist Volunteers didn't need to kill his mother to force the family to flee from their home of 36 years.
"If he had wanted her out of the house, then a brick through the window should have been enough. He didn't need to use a pipe bomb," said Martin O'Neill, 43.
The judge said Fulton also threw a homemade grenade into lines of riot police during a Protestant mob confrontation with officers in 1998. The blast wounded four officers, three so badly that they never returned to duty.
Hart gave Fulton a 28-year sentence for the attack on the police officers, a 25-year sentence for murdering O'Neill and a string of lesser sentences for other crimes. Because the sentences were to be served simultaneously, only the longest sentence will apply.
Leaders of Northern Ireland's Catholic minority welcomed the verdict.
"Fulton is a dangerous and evil man who left a trail of pain and destruction in his wake," said Dolores Kelly, a moderate Catholic politician from the Portadown area.
"I hope that this sentence sends out a strong message and reassures the community that killers such as Fulton will not be allowed to terrorize the public or act with impunity in such a way again," she said.
Fulton's Belfast trial began in June 2003 but faced myriad bureaucratic delays.
His brother, Mark "Swinger" Fulton, was the Loyalist Volunteers' previous commander, but he hanged himself in prison in 2002.
The founder of the Loyalist Volunteers, Billy "King Rat" Wright, was killed in prison in December 1997, triggering a wave of retaliatory killings of Catholics.
The Loyalist Volunteers opposed a 1994 ceasefire by the two dominant Protestant paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland -- the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defense Association.