Scots Guardsman Paul McGee died in his mother's arms after being stabbed outside her home by Barry McGrory with a knife he had nicknamed his "baby".
Mr McGee – who received a medal for bravery after trying to save a soldier's life in Iraq in 2006 – was stabbed three times, suffering a fatal wound to his heart. Jurors at the High Court in Glasgow yesterday took just over three hours to convict McGrory of murdering the soldier in McConnell Road, Lochwinnoch, on 25 October.
The verdict was greeted with loud cheers from Mr McGee's family and friends. McGrory looked ashen-faced as he turned to his own family.
The court heard McGrory had nine previous convictions, including for possession of a knife. He had also walked free from an attempted murder charge.
Judge Lord Woolman yesterday told the murderer: "The jury has found you guilty of a despicable crime. You took the life of a young man by stabbing him with your knife while he lay vulnerable on the ground."
Outside court, Mr McGee's mother Anne, 54, said: "Justice was done and now we can grieve for Paul." His girlfriend Helen Laycock, 26, added: "It won't bring back Paul, but it's justice."
The court heard that the 28-year-old soldier, his mother, his girlfriend and her mother, Ann Laycock, 59, were returning after a charity night in Johnstone.
Their taxi driver, John Banach, spotted McGrory, 28, driving slowly with his fog lights on. He flashed his lights before overtaking him and this enraged McGrory and his passenger Ian Wallace, 28.
Minutes later, as the taxi pulled up in McConnell Road, Wallace jumped out of McGrory's car and began punching the driver through his window.
Mr McGee stepped in to calm things down and Wallace – who was described in court as a "deranged animal" – turned on him. The two men got into a scuffle on the ground, but eventually lay still as they were exhausted from struggling with each other.
At this point, Miss Laycock told the court, McGrory crouched over Mr McGee before quickly walking away.
Moments later, as McGrory and Wallace fled the scene, Mr McGee lay dying in his mother's arms.
Mrs McGee broke down in tears as she told the court that she pleaded with her son to get up. "I said: 'It's Mum; please son, get up.' Neighbours came on to the street and told me that he had been stabbed – then my son died in my arms."
She told jurors that her son was "easy going and popular". She added: "He was a son that every mum would have been proud to have."
The court also heard from Wallace's girlfriend Kerry Gribben, who claimed McGrory said he had "plugged" someone just hours after the soldier died. She said that McGrory referred to the murder weapon – a fishing knife – as his baby.
Wallace was also originally charged with murder but the Crown dropped the case against him and instead charged him with assaulting Mr McGee, the taxi driver, Mrs McGee and Mrs Laycock. He pled guilty to these charges.
Mr McGee received the Queen's Commendation for Bravery after trying to save his colleague Stephen Ferguson whose armoured vehicle had slipped into a canal. The guardsman later died in hospital from his injuries.
Lord Woolman deferred sentencing on both men until next month for background reports.