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Luke Muir Mitchell (born July 1988) is a Scottish man convicted of the murder of his teenage girlfriend Jodi Jones in 2003. The case was the subject of widespread media coverage, much of it highlighting Mitchell's status as a suspect and then vilifying him when he was finally convicted. Mitchell has always maintained his innocence and some other media, including a TV documentary and a book, have raised questions about the circumstantial case against him. However, an appeal against his conviction failed.

Contents

Investigation and trial

On 30 June 2003, fourteen-year-old Jodi Jones was found brutally murdered in Dalkeith, Scotland. Her body was along a path through some woods, and she had been subjected to what prosecutors would later describe in court as a "savage knife attack." It was claimed, though never proven, that Jodi had set out earlier to visit Luke Mitchell, her boyfriend. Her mutilated body was later found by Mitchell who had joined a search party that also included Jodi's 67 year-old grandmother, Alice Walker, 17 year-old sister Janine, and Janine's boyfriend, Stephen Kelly (19). The fact that Mitchell and his dog discovered the body very quickly despite a search at night, in poor weather, would later play a major part in the criminal investigation.

Eventually Mitchell was arrested and charged with the crime, some 10 months later, following months of media speculation, including the repeated claim that the then 15-year-old was the "only" or "prime" suspect . At his trial at the High Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh he pleaded not guilty and lodged a special defence of alibi, claiming that he was at home cooking dinner at the time of the murder. During the 42-day trial which followed the jury heard evidence from both Mitchell's mother and brother Shane, as well as visiting the crime scene. The evidence of Shane Mitchell was crucial to the conviction; he stated that at the time of the murder, he had been at the family home, viewing internet porn. He agreed that this was not an activity he would have engaged in if he thought anyone else was in the house and so he failed to corroborate Mitchell's alibi. The trial is the longest of a single accused in Scottish legal history.

On 21 January 2005, the jury found him guilty after 5 hours of deliberation (this, after a 42 day trial). Mitchell, aged sixteen at the time of his conviction, was condemned as being "truly wicked" by Judge Lord Nimmo Smith. He was also found guilty of a separate charge of supplying cannabis.

Mitchell's sentencing took place on 11 February 2005. Nimmo Smith told Mitchell that he would spend a minimum of 20 years in prison before being considered for parole.

Evidence presented

Finding the body

The main plank of the prosecution case was "guilty knowledge"; in finding the body quickly despite poor conditions, Mitchell demonstrated that he already knew where it was. In his defence, Mitchell claimed that he went through a distinctive "V"-shaped hole in one part of the wall to find the body, because a family dog had alerted him to something suspicious. This was challenged by members of the 'search team' in court, although their original statements for up to a month after the murder corroborated Mitchell's - they spoke of the dog scrabbling at the wall, and "suddenly pulling Luke over to the wall." No explanation was ever offered as to why their stories later changed to deny that the dog had reacted. The prosecution stated that only the killer could have known the exact location of Jodi's body. To allow the jury to explore the plausibility of these claims, a mock-up wall was erected in the Laigh Hall, below Parliament Hall within Parliament House, across the road from the High Court of Justiciary building in Edinburgh's Old Town, where the trial was being heard.

Broken alibi

A second part of the prosecution case was to discredit Mitchell's alibi that he had been at home at the time of the murder. Under cross-examination, his brother Shane revealed that he had been viewing internet porn in the house at that time. He agreed that he would only have done this if he thought the house to be otherwise empty. While not conclusive proof that Mitchell was lying (Shane may have been mistaken in his belief that the house was empty), it hardly corroborated the alibi.

Suggestion of burned evidence

It was stated during the trial that Mitchell's clothes may have been destroyed in a garden incinerator and neighbours noted a strange smell coming from the garden. However, no forensic evidence was recovered from the incinerator, which was an 11" diameter log burner, and one neighbour, in evidence, described the smell as "wood smoke."

Other evidence and unusual behaviour

Mitchell was supposedly a major fan of Marilyn Manson. The prosecution claimed that he had taken a keen interest in The Black Dahlia case of 1947, an unsolved homicide whereby an aspiring young actress was found murdered and mutilated in Los Angeles. Manson painted a picture of Elizabeth Short's injuries. The Crown suggested that there was a similarity between Jodi and Elizabeth's injuries. In fact a 2007 BBC documentary showed Mitchell only owned one CD by Manson, bought after the murder took place and there is no actual evidence that Mitchell knew of the Dahlia case until after the murder. [1]

A knife pouch was also found in Mitchell's possession on which he had marked "JJ 1989 - 2003" and "The finest day I ever had was when tomorrow never came". This was also considered evidence on the basis that it would be unlikely for anyone but the killer to remember someone killed with a knife in this way.[2]

Mitchell described himself as a Goth and scribbled Satanic symbols on his schoolbooks. Some of these "satanic references, it would emerge later, were lines from the popular computer game "Max Payne." As well as dealing in cannabis he was reportedly a heavy user of the drug.[3]

Appeal

In March 2006, Luke was granted leave to appeal against his conviction (and his length of sentence) at the High Court of Justiciary sitting as the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh, on the grounds of the trial judge's refusal to hear the original case outside of the city.

In November 2006, Luke Mitchell won the right to appeal against his conviction for murder. Mitchell's legal team had wanted a number of grounds for appeal to be heard but the judges said only one would be allowed. Scotland's senior judge, the Lord Justice General, Lord Hamilton said they would allow a ground of appeal claiming that the trial judge erred in refusing to move Mitchell's case out of Edinburgh following publicity ahead of the proceedings. Lord Hamilton, who was sitting with Lord Kingarth and Lord MacLean, said: "We have come, with some hesitation, to the view that this ground is arguable." "There is an argument that the trial judge failed adequately to take into account the circumstances that the publicity might have had an impact of particular strength not only in the immediate locality of the crime but in a somewhat wider area embracing the city of Edinburgh and other towns in the Lothians," he said. There was a huge media fanfare surrounding the trial and this may have affected the final outcome. The fact that the jury were not put into a hotel for the night of the decision has also been cited as a factor. The Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh heard Mitchell's appeal in February 2008, but in May 2008 his original conviction was upheld.

Appeal decision

On 16 May 2008 the judges' verdict was given. Sitting over the appeal were Lord Osborne, Lord Kingarth and Lord Hamilton, who delivered the decision. They ruled that there was sufficient evidence in law that Luke Mitchell could be convicted on and rejected his other grounds of appeal, yet stated that police questioning of Mitchell on 14 August 2003 had been "outrageous" and was "to be deplored."

Mitchell's appeal against his sentence has yet to be considered.

Frontline Scotland

In May 2007, a BBC Scotland Frontline Scotland documentary special was broadcast about the case on BBC One. It explored a theory - not followed up by police during the initial investigation - that the murder may have been committed not by Mitchell, but by a student and heavy drug user who was alleged to have handed in an essay about killing a girl in the woods a few weeks before the murder. A friend of this suspect saw him soon after the murder and claimed that he was heavily scratched about the face. The 'satanic scribblings' on Mitchell's school book such as 'I have tasted the Devil's Green Blood', may have been influenced by computer game monologues from the best selling video game Max Payne rather than being satanic verse as indicated to the jury. The documentary also covered the common misconception that Mitchell was an obsessive Marilyn Manson fan and had a keen interest in the Black Dahlia murder. Only one Marilyn Manson CD and a ripped up calendar were actually found in Mitchell's room. The CD was also found to have been purchased after the murder took place. It was also said by this documentary that after searching Mitchell's computer, no links were found to the Black Dahlia or the paintings done by Manson of the murder. The Jones family were reported in the Scottish Daily Record to be "outraged" at the programme, but the newspaper did also mention that none of them had actually watched it.[1].

References

  1. ^ a b "Luke Mitchell: The Devil's Own?" Samantha Poling, BBC Frontline Scotland
  2. ^ "Luke Mitchell v. Her Majesty's Advocate"
  3. ^ "I did not inspire Jodi's killer, says rock star Marilyn Manson" KEVIN HURLEY The Scotsman Mon 14 Feb 2005

This case inspired the book "No Smoke, The Shocking Truth about British Justice" by Sandra Lean, leading to an investigation of several other alleged wrongful convictions.

External links








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