A man accused of battering a church organist to death in Sheffield on Christmas Eve has been found guilty of manslaughter.
Jurors returned their verdict on Ashley Foster, aged 22, after two days of deliberations at Sheffield Crown Court.
SEE THE STAR TOMORROW FOR SEVEN-PAGES OF REACTION AND BACKGROUND - INCLUDING AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE VICTIM’S WIDOW.
Foster, of Wesley Road, High Green, denied murdering 68-year-old Alan Greaves, also from High Green, as the pensioner walked to church on Christmas Eve, but a jury of six men and six women today found him guilty of manslaughter - on the basis that he killed Mr Greaves but never intended to.
His girlfriend ran from the public gallery when the verdict was delivered.
He was found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter.
Jonathan Bowling, 22, of Carwood Way, Pitsmoor, admitted murder at an earlier hearing.
The thugs will be sentenced together tomorrow.
Jurors were told that Mr Greaves, a retired social worker, was struck around the head with a pick axe handle and another weapon, possibly a hammer.
No motive was ever given.
Bowling admitted the attack but Foster always denied involvement, although he did admit to being with Bowling when he struck.
Foster claimed he had gone for a walk with Bowling to calm him down following a disagreement with another family member, and saw him run towards Mr Greaves brandishing a pick axe handle.
He claimed he screamed ‘no’ as Bowling jumped in the air and delivered two blows.
Mr Greaves’ widow, Maureen, who has been supported throughout the trial by her two daughters, was in court when the verdict was delivered.
She was in tears when the jurors returned their verdict.
In a statement issued afterwards she said: “I believe that justice was done for the actions taken that resulted in the murder of an innocent man.
“Society needs protecting from people who do such evil acts and I am satisfied and relieved by the result of the court today, however no sentence will bring Alan back.
“Alan was a wonderful man who is so dearly missed. Our lives will never be the same again.
“I wish to thank South Yorkshire Police and Alan’s barrister Robert Smith for the incredible job that they have done throughout this entire process. I know how hard they have worked to get justice for Alan.
“I also want to thank them for the way that they have dealt with myself and our children as they have shown such sensitivity and professionalism and have been a great source of comfort to us during this difficult time.
“Alan was a man who was driven by love and compassion and he would not want any of us to hold on to feelings of hate and unforgiveness. So, in honour of Alan and in honour of the God we both love, my prayer is that this story doesn’t end today.
“My prayer is that Jonathan Bowling and Ashley Foster will come to understand and experience the love and kindness of the God who made him in his own image and that God’s great mercy will inspire him to true repentance.”
Detective Superintendent Matt Fenwick, who led the police investigation, said: “This has been a long and complex inquiry for everyone involved. Alan Greaves suffered an appalling, extremely violent and totally unprovoked attack as he walked to church. In a matter of minutes, Jonathan Bowling and Ashley Foster had left an innocent man for dead.
“I would like to thank the media for giving extensive coverage to our appeals for witnesses to this horrific crime, and for the many members of the public who came forward in response with vital information.
“I would also like to thank the team of dedicated police officers and staff, and colleagues in the CPS and other agencies, who have worked diligently and with the utmost professionalism to bring this case to court.
“But most of all my thoughts today are reserved for Alan’s widow Maureen and her family who have displayed great strength and dignity in such ghastly circumstances. I can only hope that today’s verdict will bring some small solace to them as they continue to come to terms with losing Alan in such tragic circumstances.”