Karen's killer acquitted of late-night sex attack by jury two years ago
The young man who lured an Irish nurse into his car before bludgeoning her to death with a spanner and attempting to dissolve her body in a barrel of caustic soda had been acquitted of sexual assault on a Scottish woman just two years ago.
Alexander Pacteau (21) faces life in prison after pleading guilty to the murder of Karen Buckley (24) at Kelvin Way, Glasgow, on April 12 last.
She was murdered within six to 12 minutes of leaving a nightclub.
Pacteau will be sentenced on September 8 at Glasgow High Court by Justice Lady Rae, who described his actions as "callous and calculating". He had even used his mobile phone to Google which chemicals could be used to dissolve remains.
However, crown prosecutors did not proceed with a charge of attempting to defeat the ends of justice by disposing of a body.
The judge said the killing was "motiveless, senseless and brutal".
"This is a shocking and disturbing case," she said, noting how Pacteau's actions and his "tissue of lies" had caused incredible distress for the Buckley family.
While Pacteau has only one previous conviction for forgery - linked to photocopying sterling banknotes - he was found not guilty of attacking a woman on November 27, 2011.
A jury acquitted him on the sexual-assault charge in February 2013 after he had denied the charge at Glasgow High Court.
His trial was initially postponed because of serious injuries that Pacteau had received in a car crash. Scottish prosecutors found that Pacteau had no mental impairment.
However, the alleged incident bears remarkable similarities to the murderous attack on Karen.
The complainant said it occurred late at night as she was walking home alone. She claimed Pacteau grabbed her, placed his hand on her mouth and sexually assaulted her.
Yesterday, the court heard that Karen, from Mourneabbey, Co Cork, fought for her life after Pacteau attacked her just minutes after offering her a lift home from The Sanctuary nightclub in his Ford Focus car.
He attempted to strangle her, before striking her up to 13 times on the head with a heavy 30cm spanner. Police in Scotland stressed that there was absolutely no evidence of a sexual assault.
Pacteau claimed he was drunk and lost his temper after a trivial comment had been passed by Ms Buckley.
But Det Supt Jim Kerr said Pacteau had told numerous lies to police. He also believed that Pacteau was looking for any random victim that night.
Such was the violence of the attack that the imprint of the spanner head was left on Karen's skull.
Karen's parents, John (62) and Marian (61), described Pacteau as "a cowardly vicious criminal" who they hope will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
"Our hearts are broken at the thought of Karen's final moments on this world. The thought of her being alone, frightened and struggling for her life, haunts us," said John outside court.
"The panic and fear she experienced as she fought for her very survival but she had no chance against that coward. The last face she saw and the last voice she heard was of that cold-blooded, cowardly murderer, who calmly set about trying to dispose of her body so she would never be found."
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Pacteau's counsel, John Scullion QC, apologised in court to the Buckley family.
"He accepts full responsibility for his actions and expresses regret and remorse for what he did," he said.
Mr Scullion said Pacteau can offer "no rational explanation as to why he behaved in the way he did".
"The accused recalls a trivial argument in the car, whereby he took exception to something Karen Buckley said about the males present in the Sanctuary nightclub.
"He reacted angrily, lost his temper and then assaulted Karen Buckley as described in the narrative resulting in her death. He accepts entirely that the level of violence used by him during the attack displayed wicked recklessness.
"He (also) accepts that his actions in attempts to dispose of Karen Buckley's body were despicable and beneath contempt," he added.
The hushed courtroom heard that Pacteau first tried to dissolve Karen's naked body in the bathtub of his lodgings on Dorchester Avenue in the city.
Incredibly, his flatmate - who knew nothing of what had happened - had his mother staying at the premises so they could go hill-walking.
Pacteau had rang the young man on his mobile phone to check how long he would be away from the flat - before the killer began researching the chemical properties of caustic soda on his smart phone.
He later bought a 220-litre blue plastic barrel and placed Karen's body inside, before filling it with caustic soda and drain unblocking fluid and storing it on an isolated Glasgow hill farm. Pacteau also made a major incision on Karen's body in an attempt to accelerate the work of the caustic soda.
Karen's parents - supported by their sons, Brendan (32), Damien (27) and Kieran (28) - fought back tears as the distressing evidence of their daughter's last moments were revealed by the prosecution.
Mourneabbey parish priest Fr Joe O'Keeffe and a garda liaison officer travelled with the family to support them.
The Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, prosecuting, stressed that the nurse was dead long before Pacteau brought her into his flat. In the 36 hours after killing Karen, Pacteau drove around Glasgow buying caustic soda, cleaning materials, the barrel and padlocks from various shops. For a time, he was driving around Glasgow with Karen's dead body in the passenger seat of his car.
Bizarrely, at one point, he asked a member of Tesco staff if they could recommend a cleaning product to remove blood stains from a mattress.
Pacteau was first identified by police from CCTV security camera footage outside the nightclub as he spoke to Karen as she left the club to walk home alone.
Just three hours after he had placed the barrel containing Karen's body at High Craigton Farm, some 7km outside Glasgow, police called to his flat.
When confronted, Pacteau's immediate comment was: "I was just calling to see you."
Detectives immediately became suspicious because of the overwhelming smell of bleach from the flat - and the fact the bedroom mattress did not fit its frame. Suspicious items were also found in his bedroom including parcel tape, a tool box and nail brushes.
Initially, Pacteau claimed that Karen had merely cut her head on the bed frame during consensual sex. He first insisted that she had left the flat to walk home at 4am. Later he claimed that he hit her with the spanner in self-defence. Police now describe those claims as "total lies and nonsense."
Pacteau now claims that he was so drunk he cannot remember the precise details of the early hours of April 12.
But marks on Karen's hands as well as minor injuries on Pacteau's arms show she bravely battled to protect herself.
"She fought for her life," Mr Mulholland confirmed.
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