West Law Report

DNA and bodiless homicides

Posted in Murder by mrkooenglish on June 29, 2008

Tad Dibiase shares experience about DNA test for “bodiless homicides” conviction:

Consider the case I tried in 2006. In the summer of 2003, Marion Fye, a 36-year-old mother of five, started dating a newly released felon named Harold Austin. Within a month, he had moved into her home and assumed the role of father to her children. A day or two after Thanksgiving that year, Austin and Fye got into an argument, and Austin allegedly shot and killed her. Although three of her children were in the house at the time, none of them witnessed the murder. Her body has never been found.

As in so many similar cases, forensic evidence tripped up the killer. Shortly after Fye’s disappearance, the police discovered a blood-soaked mattress in the room she had shared with Austin. Without a sample of Fye’s DNA, they thought they couldn’t prove that the blood was hers. But the relatively new science of examining mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to child, came to the rescue. By collecting DNA from Fye’s mother, the FBI was able to conclude that the blood on the mattress belonged to a female descendant of hers. Fye had three living sisters, all of whom testified that the blood couldn’t have been theirs. That was good enough for the jury, even though an exact DNA match was not possible.

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IN THE MATTER OF LEON NIGEL KENTON

Posted in Criminal Justice Act, Murder, sentence, Westlaw Reports by mrkooenglish on May 2, 2008

Last Updated: 1:26AM BST 07/06/2007
Queen’s Bench Division
Rafferty J
May 23, 2007

May 17, 2007 Minimum term – Murder – Setting appropriate minimum term – Criminal Justice Act 2003

FACTS

The court was required to determine the minimum term to be served by the offender (K) who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for murder. The victim (V), who had been aged 17, had been shot in his neck whilst sat in a parked car and had had a gold chain stolen by two assailants on bicycles. K was subsequently seen with bloodstained clothing in possession of V’s necklace. K denied the offence and stated that he had been at his sister’s house at the time. The trial judge concluded that K had been both the gunman and the individual who stole the necklace. The trial judge recommended a minimum term of 14 years, which was also recommended by the Lord Chief Justice and adopted by the secretary of state. K contended that there was no intention to kill, only to cause grievous bodily harm, and that the appropriate minimum term was therefore 13 years.

ISSUE

Determination of the minimum term to be served by K who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for murder.

HELD (judgment accordingly)

Under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 the starting point would have been 30 years. The contention that there was no intention to kill was not accepted and the progress made in prison was not so significant so as to reduce the period. There was no reason to disagree with the recommendation of the trial judge, the Lord Chief Justice and the secretary of state. The appropriate minimum term was 14 years’ imprisonment.

A Gee QC and A Lowcock (instructed by the Crown Prosecution Service) for the Crown. P Birkett QC and P Dockery (instructed by Michael Purdon, Newcastle-upon-Tyne) for the defendant.

IN THE MATTER OF STUART GEOFFREY IVES

Posted in Criminal Justice Act, Murder, sentence, Westlaw Reports by mrkooenglish on May 2, 2008

Last Updated: 1:26AM BST 07/06/2007
Queen’s Bench Division
Rafferty J
May 17, 2007

Mandatory life imprisonment – Minimum term – Murder – Robbery – Savage attack Defenceless victim – Danger to public – Criminal Justice Act 2003

FACTS

The court was required to determine the minimum term to be served by the offender (X) who had been sentenced to life imprisonment following his conviction for murder. Prior to the commencement of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, X and his sister had met the victim (V) and gone with him to a public house where V had bought them drinks. The bar staff told of V being harassed and of X saying that he knew V had some more money. That evening, X was seen dragging V towards an alley leading to a car park. In the car park X punched and kicked V’s head and repeatedly and forcibly stamped on his face and head. V died from ingesting blood from his facial injuries. When the police found V’s body, all his pockets had been rifled and no money was on or near to him. At that point X was in a nearby public house buying drinks. The trial judge found as aggravating features that it was a savage merciless sustained attack on a defenceless man on the ground, the motive was robbery and the savagery indicated that X might be a danger to the public if prematurely released. The judge considered mitigating factors to be X’s youth and his earlier unsettled life. The trial judge recommended a minimum term of 12 years and the Lord Chief Justice recommended 14 or 15 years. The secretary of state set a term of 15 years.

ISSUES

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Determination of the minimum term to be served by X who had been sentenced to life imprisonment following his conviction for murder.

HELD (judgment accordingly)

As the offence had been committed prior to the commencement of the Act, the appropriate starting point was to consider the practice of the Lord Chief Justice at that time which took 14 years as the period to be served for a “normal” murder. The starting point under the current regime was 15 years. The aggravating and mitigating features were those as set out by the trial judge whose conclusions were adopted. There was no reason to depart from his assessment and it was therefore appropriate to impose a minimum term of 12 years.

J D Hall QC and J I Hillis (instructed by the Crown Prosecution Service) for the Crown. K R Keen QC and R N Sheldon (instructed by Jack Danaher & Co, Barnsley) for the defendant.