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Brit. Soldier’s Conviction Upset

February 27, 1998

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ A British soldier convicted of murdering a Belfast teen-ager won a retrial Friday, raising fears of new violence over a case that has provoked riots in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s senior judge ruled the ballistic evidence used to convict Cpl. Lee Clegg was flawed. Speaking for a three-judge panel, Sir Robert Carswell cited new ballistic evidence presented by U.S. and British forensics experts.

Clegg’s platoon shot and killed two teen-age joy-riders in September 1990 in Catholic west Belfast. The teens had sped past the soldiers’ foot patrol in a stolen car.

He was convicted in 1993 but was freed in 1995 after serving less than four years of his life sentence. His early release sparked rioting in some Catholic areas where support for the Irish Republican Army runs high. Friday’s verdict is likely to reopen those wounds.

``The system once again is protecting its own and showing that British soldiers can do what they like and get away with it,″ said Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, whose IRA-allied party demands early paroles for convicted IRA members as a peacemaking gesture.

Aided by influential supporters in the army and the British Parliament, Clegg has fought to have his conviction overturned.

Clegg, 29, has always argued he fired because he believed his and his comrades’ lives were in danger. He says he fired into the side of the car, not after it had gone past the patrol.

The original trial relied extensively on forensic evidence that concluded one of the four bullets fired by Clegg struck the back of the car and killed Karen Reilly, 18. Shooting into the back of the car was cited as proof of murderous intent rather than self-defense.

A second soldier was convicted of attempted murder but soon paroled. No soldier was held responsible for the bullet that killed the 17-year-old driver, Martin Peake.

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