It was with what can only be described as audacity that Lord Justice General Lord Hamilton – sitting alongside Lords Osborne and Kingarth – today upheld the guilty verdict against the now nineteen year old Luke Mitchell for the murder of the schoolgirl Jodi Jones in June 2003: a conviction which is plainly unsafe. In a secluded patch of woodland outside Dalkeith, Jodi had been stunned, stripped, tied up, and then killed and mutilated. The police had identified Mitchell as a chief suspect and then concentrated their attentions on him, possibly at the expense of other leads. They found surprisingly little evidence linking him to the crime scene. Yet as Mitchell had only been named as a suspect – and not actually charged – Edinburgh’s press were not bound by the Contempt of Court Act (1981) in their coverage of the police investigation. There followed extensive media profiles of Mitchell – ostensibly reporting mere facts – but implicitly suggesting that Mitchell was worthy of attention because he did it. It seems incredible that the law sanctions the sort of intrusive and hostile media attention which Mitchell received in the summer of 2003, especially because he was only fifteen at the time.
Mitchell was not charged until the April of the year following Jones’ murder, allowing nine months of a media coverage which at times recalled Leith’s sixteenth century witch trials. In a confounding of media clichés, Mitchell was variously cast as a mindless yob, an alienated youth, and a Satanist; but whatever the angle it was agreed that he was obsessed with Goth music, knives, and drugs. An obnoxious teenager, Mitchell himself relished the attention, and here and there contributed to the media pantomime. He visited Jones’ graveside and tapped cigarette ash around her grave. It seems remarkable, considering the appalling and gratuitous mutilation of Jones’ body (which surely testifies more to psychopathy than the actions of a fifteen year old boy), that the police allowed their chief suspect to roam at large for nine months. Yet incredibly, they took more action to protect Mitchell from violence by the public, than to protect the public from a youth whom they would later present as a murderer. By the time that Mitchell was charged (when, ludicrously, the papers could now only refer to him as “a youth”), there was a considerable likelihood that any (Edinburgh) jury would be prejudiced. There followed an absolute pigsty of a trial, in which the prosecution’s case was (to paraphrase somewhat): “he is young… he has long hair… he listens to the young people’s pop music… he smokes marijuana… so he’s probably a murderer as well!” No murder weapon nor even any forensic evidence were produced, and no credible motive for the murder was established.
The prosecution produced a witness who claimed to have seen a man who resembled Mitchell in the woods before the murder. The defence have claimed that the police refused to hold an identity parade and rigged the system by which the identification of Mitchell was eventually obtained. The appeal itself established that police interrogators had tried to intimidate a confession out of Mitchell. The prosecution secondarily contended that, on the day of her murder, Jones must have met with a man whom she knew and trusted, because she and her murderer had climbed through a small gap in a wall to get into the woods, and they left behind no evidence of any struggle. We are, of course, lead to believe that a fifteen year old high on drugs had murdered and mutilated his girlfriend in a “frenzied” knife attack and left no forensic evidence behind – but not that another murderer may have been equally adept in tidying up any signs of a struggle. The press implied that Mitchell’s mother had destroyed all of the forensic evidence in a garden incinerator – knife and all – but she was not charged with perjury or obstructing the police‘s inquiries. The prosecution thirdly argued that Mitchell must have been the murderer because he and his dog were suspiciously quick in leading a search party to the body, but this is so stupid that it does not need to be addressed. It is clear that some potential forms of defence – such as the diminished responsibility of a child due to marijuana consumption – could not have been intelligently considered in the context of such a prejudiced trial.
Mitchell was convicted entirely on circumstantial evidence and on the smears published in the media – most of which have since been contested. Far from being a Goth, he did not buy a Marilyn Manson record until after the murder. The allegation that he was obsessed with the 1947 Black Dahlia murder case – and the suggestion that Jodi’s murder may have been some sort of re-enactment – have also been dismissed as fantasy. “I don’t even know what a Bowie fucking knife looks like,” Mitchell exploded at one stage in the appeal. “He is not exactly a wilting violet in giving a reply like that,” Lord Osborne quipped. Using the F-word is clearly remarkable behaviour in a teenager, and what further evidence could one need that Mitchell is a psychopath? The Edinburgh Evening News today headed their coverage with the thoughtful headline “URINE UNDER BED PAINTS PICTURE OF ODDBALL KILLER” (the word “killer” was used at every opportunity, as if to repudiate any suggestion that they may have been complicit in a miscarriage of justice). The paper did not elaborate on why Mitchell kept bottles of urine under his bed – vaguely suggesting, perhaps, some piss-drinking Satanic ritual – and yet every drunken man knows that the bathroom is an awfully long way away. What else, after all, are pot plants for? More importantly, this should not have been counted amongst evidence upon which a man was convicted for life.
Unless either Mitchell or somebody else confesses to the murder, then there is no possibility of ascertaining what on earth happened to Jodi Jones. Responding to a horrific murder, Edinburgh’s police lapsed into skulduggery, its press became utterly out of control, and its judiciary hosted an unfair and bewilderingly expensive trial. If Edinburgh aspires to be the capital city of an independent nation, during the trial of Luke Mitchell it emerged as a two-bit, redneck town.