Ross Monaghan was on trial accused of murdering Kevin “Gerbil” Carroll outside Asda in Robroyston, Glasgow, on 13 January 2010.
At the High Court in Glasgow yesterday, trial judge Lord Brailsford formally acquitted Mr Monaghan, ruling there was no case to answer due to insufficient evidence.
The 30-year-old smiled as he left court and said it was the end of a “two-year nightmare”.
He said: “I’ve always said this was nothing to do with me. I’m just so glad it’s over and now I can put it behind me.”
Lord Brailsford gave his decision following two days of legal submissions from Mr Monaghan’s defence QC, Derek Ogg. The Crown was given time to decide whether to appeal, but advocate depute Iain McSporran said, following careful consideration at the “highest level”, there would be no appeal.
The trial heard that two masked men drew up to the Audi car Mr Carroll was in and shot him dead while he was trapped in the back seat, before speeding away.
Mr Carroll had been at Asda that day with two other men – his driver, John Bonner, and associate, Stephen McLaggan.
The court heard that Mr Carroll was trying to “move in” on other drug dealers and, minutes before being shot dead, had met Steven Glen, an “independent”, and told him he would be working for him from then on.
Mr Carroll was said to be a senior figure in Glasgow’s criminal underworld and “was not short of an enemy or two”.
The murder weapons – a pistol and a revolver – were found by six council gardeners 13 days later, behind Coatbridge Library in North Lanarkshire.
The gardeners went on to “pass them around” while wearing wet gloves.
DNA matching Mr Monaghan’s was found on the pistol but forensics experts were unable to say how it got there as it was such a tiny amount.
Lord Brailsford said it was “impossible” to say whether Mr Monaghan’s DNA had arrived there as a result of primary, secondary or tertiary means and that a “more remote” transfer could not be excluded.
A single particle of gunpowder residue found on a jacket taken from Mr Monaghan’s wardrobe was deemed “of no evidential value” by the judge.
Forensic expert Alison Colley, from the Scottish Police Service Authority (SPSA), said she was asked by a detective superintendent involved in the investigation to form a conclusion using the particle.
Lord Brailsford said: “I’m bound to say I found this evidence disturbing. My understanding is that the SPSA is an independent body, distinct from the police, and its reports are intended to express independent expert statements of opinion.”
Strathclyde Police Assistant Chief Constable Ruaraidh Nicolson said yesterday: “The chief constable and everyone at the force is deeply concerned by the comments made by his lordship and is determined to get to the bottom of what has happened in this instance.”