A former paratrooper has been found guilty of brutally murdering an 83-year-old grandfather because he hated dog walkers.
Alexander Palmer, 24, repeatedly stabbed Peter Wrighton so viciously in the throat and eye that police thought he had been savaged by an animal.
The retired BT engineer from Banham suffered nine wounds to his neck and another 22 to his body before his corpse was dragged under brambles in woods at East Harling.
Palmer denied killing Mr Wrighton and claimed DNA found on his body may have been due to the pair crossing paths in the wood that day.
But a jury at Nottingham Crown Court dismissed his claims and today took just 49 minutes to find him guilty. He will be sentenced tomorrow to give Mr Wrighton’s widow the chance to attend.
During the two-week trial, the court heard how Mr Wrighton was attacked while walking his two dogs in woodland on August 5 and was declared dead at the scene.
His nine-year-old Scarteen harrier Dylan and 13-year-old trailhound-cross Gemma were found unharmed near the pensioner’s body.
The death was initially treated as unexplained as police believed he’d been attacked by an animal.
But a murder inquiry was launched two days later after a post-mortem examination found the victim appeared to have multiple stab wounds to his head and neck.
Palmer, of Cringleford, Norfolk, was arrested a week after the discovery of Mr Wrighton’s body.
The jury was told how police were initially unaware of Palmer until a psychologist who had previously treated him read press reports and said she thought he could be someone worth speaking to.
The court heard how while in the army, he was injured as the victim of an assault, which seemed to trigger problems requiring mental health professionals.
Palmer claimed a voice in his head called ‘Little Alex’ told him to harm or kill people and dog walkers were a particular ‘bugbear’ of his.
Prosecutor Stephen Spence said it was no coincidence that Palmer, who left the Army in November 2015, was in the vicinity at the time of the killing.
He said: “Alex Palmer went there that day to carry out his ambition, to carry out what he had written about, to carry out what he had spoken about.”
Palmer decided not to give evidence but his barrister David Spens told jurors there was no direct evidence to link him to the killing.
While Palmer’s DNA was found on the victim, and vice versa, Mr Spens said it was at the level that could be explained.
In a statement, Mr Wrighton’s family said: “The shock of it has been compounded by the fact he was such a lovely, gentle man who people always warmed to. We have all been struggling to come to terms with losing him in such a way and our mum, his wife of 59 years, has been left bereft and lonely.
“We are so grateful to the police force for the huge amount of work they did to achieve today’s result, and for the kindness and understanding they have given us. We also again thank the local dog walkers and residents for their co-operation and support.
“However, the revelations of the evidence relating to the mental health of Alexander Palmer have shocked, astounded and angered us. We feel that his mental health professionals failed both him and his family as well as ours. My mum, brother, myself and our children now not only feel grief, but anger as we believe this crime could have been prevented.”
Detective Superintendent Marina Ericson, who leads the joint Norfolk and Suffolk Major Investigation Team and was the Senior Investigating Officer in the enquiry, welcomed the verdict saying: “I believe Palmer to be callous and extremely calculated in his approach to Peter’s death.
“It was a premeditated and predatory killing. Palmer took the opportunity of Peter walking alone with no one else around to launch an attack on an elderly, frail man knowing he would be unable to defend himself.”