Posts Tagged ‘Jury’

In a criminal trial I hate the fact that I don’t get the last word. Every minute that goes by since my speech I think the jury will forget what I have said, or some of my best points.

But it gets worse when the jury have gone. Disappeared to their little room with weak tea and budget instant coffee. At that point, you’ve lost control completely.

Then there’s the agony. The waiting. The first half an hour is just about passable. But after that it’s painful. And then, there’s a dreadful ticking on the clock. 2hrs 10mins.

Unanimous verdict

I think everyone outside of the criminal justice system imagines that when a person is tried, then, the jury must make a decision upon which they all agree. In England that’s generally 12 people. 12 people say guilty, or 12 people say not guilty.

After all, in this country, to be found guilty of an offence it has to be that the Crown prove their case beyond reasonable doubt. Put otherwise, they have to make a jury ‘sure’ that a defendant is guilty.

Surely it follows then, that  for someone to be found guilty, all those 12 must say guilty?

Give ’em some slack

The fact is, after those 2 hours 10 minutes have passed the Judge has the discretion to allow the jury to return a verdict upon which they don’t all agree. There can be a majority of 10 to 2.

1 perhaps make sense. In this country we don’t have advanced selection processes when it comes to picking a jury. So, on every jury there might be one person who from principle could never convict someone, or another who might believe  that there’s no smoke without fire and is predisposed to conviction.

Fetch me my calculator

So, 11 to 1 is fine, maybe.

But what about 10 to 2? What about 10 people saying guilty and 2 saying not guilty. 2 people saying,  they’re not sure that the Defendant is guilty. I suppose 2 isn’t a lot out of 12.

But, think of it as a percentage. It’s what, 16% are of the jury are not sure he is guilty. How is that beyond reasonable doubt?

Thus! If you project that figure over the British population that’s about 10 million people.

How on earth can a conviction be safe when 10 million people might have found him or her not guilty?

Maybe I’m just…

… a bad loser. And I certainly am. I hate losing jury trials especially on a 10-2 majority, it’s like a sodding photo finish.

The maths above is just a silly example.

But isn’t it odd. We require such a high standard of proof: being sure. And then we allow someone to be found guilty even though over 10% of the jury isn’t sure.

As a general rule in the US there is a requirement that the decision is unanimous. I believe it’s constitutionally required in death penalty cases.

The cruelty is this: in England, you could be convicted for murder, face life, even though two people on your jury were not sure that you are guilty. All of a sudden 16% seems an awfully wide margin of doubt.

Can you be sure that justice is done when a sentence is imposed, when not all a jury agree?



Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you’ll recall that at the start of this trial, you were told, told that if you wish to convict Matthew Weeks that you must be sure that he is guilty of murder. You must be sure that he murdered Charlotte Dymond.

When I was but a lad…

… my Dad and I would go walking on Bodmin Moor. We would often return to the same spot. Rough Tor. There is a memorial to those men of the 43rd Wessex Division who died in the Second World War. There are the remains of an ancient settlement.

And there is a stone monument, covered in moss, which reads:

‘This monument is erected by public subscription in memory of Charlotte Dymond who was murdered here by Matthew Weekes on Sunday April 14 1844.’

The belle of Bodmin

Ladies and gentlemen, you have heard the description of Charlotte Dymond. 18 years old at the time of the murder. We know she was pretty, even described by some of the witnesses as buxom. A milkmaid at Lower Penhale Farm, the prosecution wish for you to believe that she was loved by all the men of the village, for her looks, for her flirtation.

They wish for you to believe that this is the motivation for a murder.

For the Crown say, that the case is simple. Matthew Weeks loved Charlotte Dymond. Matthew Weeks killed Charlotte Dymond  because he was jealous of her flirtation with the other lads about town.

So jealous that on Sunday 14th April 1844 he asked Charlotte for a walk upon the moors. As they walked he challenged her for flirting with the other lads. Unhappy with her reply, he took a razor from his pocket, he cut her throat, she collapsed. He cut her throat again on the ground, killing her.

Two weeks later her body was found.

And now you must decide whether you are sure that Matthew Weeks slit her throat with so little mercy.

Public subscription

The local public are sure Matthew Weeks is guilty. So sure they clubbed together for that fine stone monument on Rough Tor. That monument which announces Matthew Weeks as murderer before the start of this trial.

The Crown point to that monument to make you think that the public are sure, so you can be sure. If they weren’t sure they wouldn’t have erected the monument before the trial began.

I point to that monument to make you wonder, wonder whether the local public have turned their mind against Matthew Weeks. Whether they simply decided he was guilty and wouldn’t consider just perhaps there was another.

One family certainly decided he is guilty. Because during this trial, there was a detail you weren’t told. Every prosecution witness who took that stand, who gave evidence to you, they are all related, they’re all members of the same family. Why would the Crown not mention that?

The prosecution’s witnesses

Isaac Cory. 63 years old. A relative of Charlotte Dymond’s employer Mrs Peter. A relative of another local lad named Thomas Prout. In the evening he arrived at the farm house. He said on his way that he had seen Matthew Weeks walking with a girl he was not able to identify. He said he had recognised Weeks, despite the distance, the daytime and the fog.

You may find it strange ladies and gentlemen of the jury that he was able to recognise Weeks, but not a girl he would have met before. You might find it  strange that he was able to recognise Weeks as the light failed on that April afternoon. You may wonder how his eyesight was able to cut through that thick fog.

Mrs Peter. 61 years old. A widow.  She lived with her son. She had three servants who lived in. She was the relative of another local lad named Thomas Prout. She told you that her servants were expected to be home by half past nine. Charlotte Dymond was not. She waited up until half past eleven. She then went to bed. She did not send her son, or her servants onto the moor to look for the girl.

The next day she said, she found the trousers belonging to Matthew Weeks. Although clean that morning, they had been muddied to the knee. Mrs Peter reckoned it was the same mud as you get on the moor. She questioned Matthew, she asked if he had been out with Charlotte. He admitted he had escorted her to the moorland, he had gone one way, she the other. The last person who saw her alive, the Crown say that is damning.

Mrs Peter said she was suspicious, so she sent the men onto the moor. She took the opportunity to search Matthew’s room, she found ladies’ handkerchiefs. (You might wonder, why she neglected to mention that Matthew Weeks had stored clothes for Charlotte Dymond)

Nothing was found on the moor that day. But Mrs Peter kept asking Matthew Weeks questions. Then she found something else, even later, a shirt, spotted with blood. By now Matthew Weeks had left the house.

So it was Mrs Peter who demanded the search for the moor. The search two weeks later which found the body of Charlotte Dymond.

Will you convict Matthew Weeks for his muddied trousers? It was raining that day, it was foggy. Mud is part of rural life. It was moorland mud she said. Come on ladies and gentlemen, can you tell one mud from another?

And just mud? Charlotte Dymond’s throat was slit, deep too, blood must have gushed. He managed not to get any blood on his trousers as he moved her body?

Ah, but the Crown say there was blood on the shirt. Again, gushing blood won’t simply spot. And this blood, was found much later, could have been a shaving cut for all we know.

If Matthew Weeks had murdered Charlotte Dymond that day by slitting her throat then why is it that he was not drenched in her blood?


… Nobody had seen Matthew Weeks on the day of the murder, he had been meant to be visiting a local house.

You might conclude that this is no damning on Matthew. It is 1844, people only have one day to themselves. Perhaps they used that day to visit others.

William Gard a local minister saw two people on the Moor. He does not identify Matthew Weeks.

Richard Pethick a local farm hand saw two people on the Moor. He wasn’t sure it was Matthew Weeks, even though he knew him. But, when he gave evidence to you, he was sure. Perhaps that stone statue, perhaps the view of the town has coloured his view of Matthew Weeks.

The running man

The Crown say, why would he run if he were not guilty?

Well, let’s face it, Mrs Peter was no longer keen on her farm hand. She’d made her view perfectly clear. Oh, and of course the Crown neglect to mention, young Matthew Weeks had recently inherited money – perhaps life mucking out wasn’t attractive anymore.

By the time of the inquest, the local community were sure of Matthew Weeks and his guilt. When the Constable found Matthew he was in Plymouth. Some distance away. A major English port. The Crown say, he must have been ready to run.

Or perhaps, he was simply visiting his sister who lives in Plymouth.

The Constable said to you, well, there was a handkerchief with spots of blood on and Matthew Weeks was wearing a jacket with spots of blood on. You did not get to see that jacket. No scientific mind has concluded it was blood. You cannot be sure it was. If it were blood, would Matthew Weeks really have worn it out and about?

The boot print too. The Crown say, Matthew Weeks boot print matched foot prints near the murder scene. This was after men had walked all over the moor, those looking for Charlotte, those doing their everyday business. No man of science or even a policeman looked at the comparison of boots. Kick that evidence out.

The missing pages

This story is incomplete.

The motive is jealousy according to the Crown. Who is Matthew Weeks meant to be jealous of? One man, is Thomas Prout.

The other

Thomas Prout was a young man. He went to the farm at which Charlotte Dymond worked. He went there to visit his relative Mrs Peter. He went there to see the beautiful Charlotte Dymond. On the day of the murder he had organised to meet her, meet her on the moors. He had written her a letter to that effect.

Thomas Prout said he waited for her on the moorland. Thomas Prout says that Charlotte Dymond never arrived. He didn’t search for her though. He didn’t go up to his relative Mrs Peter’s house to search for the girl. Thomas Prout offered no alibi.

Who was the lover

The surgeon suggested that Charlotte Dymond was not a virgin. Who was her lover?

Who was her mother?

Village rumour is rife in this case. Charlotte Dymond was  illegitimate. Rumour has it that she was daughter of an upstanding member of the community. Rumour has it that she would be killed she ever crossed her Mother’s threshold.

Consider the Crown’s rumour? Then you must consider that too.

Are you sure?

Are you sure without a murder weapon? Without bloodied clothes, without a positive identification on the moorland that Matthew Weeks is guilty?

Instead, is this not simply a convenient case for the Crown, told by family members of another who could have been a suspect. Is this not a case where there are too many details which do not fit together to tell a simple story.

Matthew Weeks was running from a community who had erected a stone monument which announced he was guilty before he was even tried. You cannot be sure he was running from a guilty, vicious and bloody act.


Today of course there would have been analysis of the mud. It would have been simple to analyse the blood. There’d have been DNA analysis and perhaps even an ability to look at the wound and consider the shape/kind of knife.

Unfortunately, we will never know what the outcome of those tests would have been.

From my view, the strangest detail of the case is that the body was not found for two weeks. Further, that some of Charlotte Dymond’s clothing was not found until either shortly before or shortly after the inquest. To me both those details deserved consideration – it’s impossible for me now to consider them as we can’t look at the traffic that went about the moor.

Scariest is that the monument was erected calling Matthew Weeks a murderer before he had even been tried and that the local community paid for that monument.

24 words sum up a case which will always intrigue me. Matthew Weeks died on the gallows in front of an audience of an intrigued 20000 people.


Money is tight in criminal law. The police have reduced budgets to investigate crimes. I have to justify in writing and in detail why my solicitor ought to be able to have a piece of evidence forensically analysed.

Senior barristers have to be able to justify having a junior barrister to support them in Court, no matter how large the case. Funding for solicitors to attend trial is rarer.

Justice is never served when there are too many unanswered questions.

The jury in the Matthew Weeks trial were persuaded to make do with the evidence given.

A 21st century jury should never be asked to make do. A Defendant, even though he doesn’t face a rope, should never be asked to make do.

Every year about this time people reflect on their life. Resolutions about booze, fags and betterment. You’ve got to go back to work too, ‘new year – same old shit’ echoes through the canteens of our nation’s workplaces.

This year will be different, this year I’ll do it, I’ll get there is the mantra we’re told to follow.

7 years ago, things were rather different for a group of folks in Neshoba County Mississippi. They were asked to indict a man in his 80s. A man who had worked with his hands all his life. A man who had been a preacher in the Southern Baptist Church.

They were asked to allow him to be tried for the murder of a Jewish social worker, a Jewish anthropologist and a black NAACP member in 1964.

7 years ago today a predominantly white, Baptist, Republican voting, harness horse race attending, county fair going, jury decided that one of their own ought to be tried for the murder of 3 outsiders.

I have I Miss-Miss-Miss-ed something?

I did. When I graduated from Oxford in 2006 I moved to Mississippi. I lived there, I worked there. I did a ‘civil rights’ type job. Little did I know about what had happened in the 1960s to other outsiders who had travelled to Mississippi to try and effect change.

In fact when I lived in Mississippi, nobody had told me about what happened the year before. It had been huge, not only for Neshoba County, not only for Mississippi but for America too.

So how did I miss it? The New York Times had covered it. The Washington Post had covered it.  There had been an article in TIME magazine.

But the people in Mississippi, they didn’t want to talk about it.

Elephant in the room

A few years later, I returned to see friends and former colleagues, to visit parts of the Deep South I’d missed in the years before. I stayed with the Alston family. I hadn’t met them the first time round. They were friends of American friends. Alex Alston had been a chairman of the Mississippi Bar Association. He and his wife offered me true Southern Hospitality.

As a gift, I was given Alex’s book: Devil’s Sanctuary: An Eyewitness History of Mississippi Hate Crimes.

Alex’s book contained the elephant.

Trampled by the truth

Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were brutally murdered in the early hours of 21 June 1964. They were murdered because they believed that black people ought to have the vote.

Having set up black community projects in Meridian, Mississippi (somewhere 40 years later I faced arrest by the Chief of Police for trying to access a document of public record), they drew attention of the local Ku Klux Klan.

One day, the three left Meridian to investigate the burning of a Church which had been a hub for civil rights activities. The Klan knew the car they were in. The local Klansmen circulated the details. In Neshoba county, a local deputy sheriff spotted the car. He stopped them. He arrested the lot on a minor speeding charge and took them to the County jail.

In the jail they were held incommunicado. While they were there the deputy sheriff began the organisation of the civil rights workers’ murder. The jail staff denied the three were there at all.

They were fined $20 and released. They went on their way only to be pulled over by the police again. They were held on the side of the road until their murderers arrived. Taken to an isolated spot they were beaten and shot.

Obviously the local police did not investigate.

The President deployed the FBI. The Governor of Mississippi agreed with the Neshoba sheriff that these fellows were probably hiding, perhaps in Cuba.

44 days later the FBI found their bodies.

Protect your own

The Mississippi authorities refused to prosecute any of those that were clearly involved. So, the Federal Government indicted 8 individuals under the US Force Act 1870 with conspiring to deprive the three of their civil rights (by murder). They indicted the Sheriff a man named Rainey, the Deputy Sheriff Price and 16 other men. Guilty verdicts were returned on 20th October 1967.

None of the men did more than six years in prison.

In 1989, on the 25th anniversary of the murders, the American Congress passed a resolution honouring the three men civil rights workers; the Mississippi delegation would not vote in favour of it.

But there were others outstanding. Local Baptist minister, Edgar Ray Killen was heavily implicated but for some reason the jury could not convict. In 2000 it was revealed that one juror could not convict because Killen was a preacher.

A community never forgets

The community didn’t forget. And on 6 January 2005 a grand jury indicted Edgar Ray Killen for three counts of murder. He was prosecuted by the Attorney General of Mississippi, and found guilty of three charges of manslaughter. He received three consecutive sentences of 20 years which were upheld on appeal.


I think it was a communal sense of shame that meant people in Mississippi didn’t talk to me as an outsider about the Killen indictment. I know that Alex Alston’s book is a confession on behalf of his fellow Mississippians.

I have written and tweeted about Stephen Lawrence this week. I have talked about it with my colleagues and my friends. I am ashamed that we allowed his murderers to avoid justice for so long.

But, I won’t be quiet about it. I am going to talk about police culture until it is changed. I am going to talk about Stephen Lawrence until everybody in this country knows his story.

I hope we won’t stop until all of Lawrence’s killers are brought to justice. We should demand the truth for Eddie Gilfoyle. We must shed a light on the Mark Duggan death.

Every New Year, when I feel down about another year, I resolve to be inspired by Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner and that Grand Jury who ordered the trial of one of their own.