A Brechin man has been found guilty of murdering his girlfriend in a frenzied knife attack inside her home.
Following a 10-day trial at the High Court in Glasgow, a jury unanimously agreed Keith Rizzo, 23, stabbed and choked Neomi Smith to death in her flat in Brechin on June 9 last year.
Prosecutors had told the trial the farm worker flew into a jealous rage after watching his 23-year-old partner dance with other men in local bar Hudsons.
The couple argued and she returned to her Swan Street flat, where Rizzo kicked down the front door before launching the vicious assault in her kitchen.
He stabbed her a total of 32 times with two knives, inflicting one wound to her upper back that was so deep it nearly exited her esophagus.
He also repeatedly hit and strangled the care worker, who was originally from Aberdeen, with so much force it caused small fractures to the bones in her neck.
Ms Smith’s family members cried and shouted from the public gallery as the verdict was delivered.
Her father John Smith was heard to shout “I hope you rot in hell you f****** b******” as Rizzo, who did not react to the verdict, sat in the dock.
It took the jury, made up of 10 men and five women, just over an hour and a half to decide his guilt.
The trial had heard from various witnesses who told how Rizzo had made contrasting claims as to what happened on the night of the murder.
In what prosecutor Duncan McPhie described as “far-fetched” and “entirely inconsistent” accounts, Rizzo told his mother several weeks after his arrest that he had found two men in black inside the property when he entered.
He claimed the men said his girlfriend owed them money and took turns stabbing her before forcing him to place his hands in her blood and handle the knives.
They then reportedly told Rizzo “this is what happens to people who don’t pay us what they owe us” before forcing him in the shower and adding “this isn’t the first time we’ve done this”.
Hours after his arrest he told police he saw a suspicious figure in the alley and heard a man arguing with Ms Smith while he was in the shower.
There was no mention of the two mystery killers at the time despite him being interviewed for more than three hours.
Jurors also unanimously found Rizzo guilty of assaulting Ms Smith sometime between May 9 and May 30 last year at her flat by throwing a mobile phone at her, punching her and pushing her against a wall.
The jurors again unanimously found him guilty of acting in a threatening or abusive manner by pushing a table and breaking a glass at Hudsons Bar just hours before the murder.
Lady Rae, who presided over the trial, deferred sentence until April 6 for a criminal justice social work report to be prepared.
However, she warned Rizzo to expect a “significant” custodial sentence and described the crime as a “brutal murder of a young woman in the prime of her life.”
Rizzo, who was represented by Donald Findlay QC, did not take to the stand and the defence did not lead any evidence during the trial.
Jurors initially heard evidence Rizzo had assaulted his former partners between 2014 and 2019, however, the Crown dropped seven charges relating to these allegations at the close of its case.
Members of Ms Smith’s family did not want to comment on the verdict.
‘Disturbing’ thuds heard just after midnight
Neomi Smith’s downstairs neighbour Stephen Alexander, 59, told the trial he heard several “disturbing” thuds – like someone was “hitting the floor with a hammer” – just after midnight on the night of the murder.
Shortly after, Rizzo appeared at his door “panicked” and begged him to help his girlfriend, who Mr Alexander found covered in blood and unresponsive on the kitchen floor.
He described the sight of her body next to smashed glass and food as like a “scene of carnage” and said he tried in vain to revive her before emergency service personnel arrived.
The trial also heard disturbing evidence from paramedic Angela McKenzie who struggled to recount what she had seen.
The first responder, who has 14 years’ experience, described walking in to see two police officers performing CPR and holding a towel to large wounds to Ms Smith’s neck.
She compared the aftermath of the murder to a horror movie and said there were too many stab wounds for her to count.
Police officers told how Rizzo, who was sitting in a patrol car outside the flat with his head in his hands, “lashed out” after being told he was under arrest on suspicion of murder.
He repeatedly asked “why would I kill my girlfriend?” before several hours later telling detectives he discovered her body in the kitchen after hearing her arguing with someone.
He also claimed he saw a dark figure running from the street and suggested it may have been a former boyfriend.
While in custody, Rizzo was assessed by a forensic scientist and found to have a total of 16 injuries including large scratches to his lower back and a cut to his finger. He was in his bare feet which were covered in his victim’s blood.
Ms Smith meanwhile had an extensive list of serious injuries as well as a small cut to her hand which the trial heard was likely a defensive wound.
A post mortem examination also found Rizzo’s DNA underneath her fingernails and DNA from blood matching Rizzo was found on the handles of the knives used as well as throughout the property.