There is one case that all people are guarenteed to follow closely, whether they are a true crime afficianado or not. That is the one that happens where they live. There is something about the proximity of crime that changes peoples relation to it. It suddenly becomes clear, that no matter if you live in a quiet village, or the most happening area of your city a crime close to home, has the power to rock your sense of saftey as you go about your daily life, question things that you would not normally question and rethink your daily habits.
It was the same with me, an Edinburgh resident when the murder of Jodi Jones happened. A fourteen year old goth resident of a small village outside the Scottish capital, her death was violent to a level that is unusal. Scotland does indeed have a bloody history, and we have birthed some unrepentant killers, but these things feel very much in the past as you enjoy the quiet countryside that surrounds Edinburgh.
So I, like pretty much everyone else in Scotland followed the case closely. It was splashed across the Scottish papers everyday with new information and speculation. Quite quickly the police closed in on Jodi’s goth boyfriend Luke. Scotland like other countries has been changing it’s attitudes towards many issues, but a vein of social conservatisim still runs strong through the country, and the goth subculture is not one that is particularly well understood. In a small village Luke and Jodi would have stood out and attracted attention with their choice of clothes, piercings and music. I can well remember the shock among church elders in the village I grew up in when I donned a pair of ripped jeans in the early nineties.
More information came out about Jodi and Luke. Jodi was a lovely girl, full of life, and was navigating with the rest of her family her fathers death from suicide. Luke’s parents had divorced and he was fully embracing the rebellion of teenage years. Both smoked marajuana and occassionally bunked off school. In these ways they were pretty typical teenagers.
However as I read the press around the murder, something which people would talk about in hushed tones in the work kitchen, a darker picture of Luke appeared. He stored urine in bottles in his bedroom, he carried a knife, he had written about murder in school essay’s, he was a fan of Marlyn Manson (well before the current accusations against Manson surfaced), he mutilated Jodi to replicate the Black Dahlia murder, there were hints he was unusually close with his mother. The list went on and on, but perhapse the most daming fact was that Luke had lead people to exactly where Jodi’s body lay. It felt like case closed.
Luke was found guilty of Jodi’s murder and sentanced to twenty years in jail, where he still remains to today. After that interest in the case was still there but remained periodical. Occassionally a red top would print a story about Luke’s time in jail, and a wee bit of interest would revive, but never for long. Everyone mostly carried on with their lives.
That is until I came across the podcast Through the Wall, by Naomi Channell, a TV producer and true crime podcaster. I thought I knew about the case, and I thought I knew about the lone woman Sandra Lean who thought Luke was innocent and I had dismissed as delusional, someone enamoured with the martyrdom of being a lone voice in the wilderness. Listening to Through the Wall though turned everything I knew about the case on it’s head. Here are some, but not all of the revelations in the podcast.
- Luke was able to lead people to Jodi’s body because his dog was trained as a tracker dog, and knew Jodi.
- Luke was a child at the time but was interviewed without a parent or guardian there.
- Police never looked into other suspects.
- Keeping urine like he did is often a sign of trauma (and I imagine finding your girlfriends mutilated body is probably quite traumatic).
- The Marilyn Manson CD the police found in his room was free with a magazine Luke bought after Jodi’s death.
- There was evidence of sexual assault at the scene of the crime but it was never investigated as a sex motivated murder.
- Timelines from witness testimony don’t add up.
- There is no forensic evidence that puts Luke at the scene of the crime.
Channell’s interview with Luke, also wipes away the image of Mitchell as a sulky, rebellious, rude, drug taking teen, with an interst in violence, replacing that image instead with an articulate and intelligent man.
The most damning counter evidence of all though comes right at the end of the podcast, where Channell and Luke’s chief supporter, criminologist Sandra Lean, find out from a whistleblower that Police Scotland are about to dispose of forensic samples in the case, agaisnt their own guidance. It’s heavily implicated that the police are actively covering up, and these samples, if retested with modern DNA techniques could well support an appeal from Mitchell.
The case has strong parallells with that of the West Memphis Three, who were tried and convicted of the murder of three eight year old boys in 1993. America was in the grip of the Satanic Panic, and the most confident of the accused Damien Echols, who was a goth, listened to metal and had a petty criminal record against him chaffed against the restrictive social codes of the bible belt – and in many ways fits the same mould as Luke Mitchelle did. Someone who positioned themselves conciously as an outsider, so therefore was seen with suspicion from the start, and easy to paint as satan worshiping pshycopaths who are a danger to all.
Echol’s and his fellow accused are now all free, but not without a punishing stint in jail – Echol’s was in solitary confinement for so long that his eyes are permenantly damaged. The case of the West Memphis Three, is now widely seen as a miscarraige of justice, but crucially although the men have been freeds this has been due to an unusal type of plea called an Alford Plea which is not availible in Scots law, rather than being given a full exoneration. While Mitchell and his supporters may have started to take steps down the same path to an eventual release, the techincalities of law make this a labrynth rather than a roman road.
So how do I feel, now, having heard the compelling evidence that Channell puts forward in her podcast, with her soothing voice? I feel like I have learned a valuble lesson in not believing everything in the papers, or taking things at face value. I was busy at the time graduating university and trying to find a job. So like many people I’d take in a news headline and not think that much more of it.
Perhapse I was so willing to believe in Luke’s guilt, and accept what was reported in the papers because deep down knowing that someone who could do something so henous could be walking free along the streets I walk is an uncomfotable proposition, and we all feel safer with someone, anyone accused and behind bars. The momentary need for a sense of saftey in some cases obviously overrides a colder, harder look at what has happened. However where did the fear, the sense of not being safe come from? It feels very much to me that it was whipped up by the reporting of the case.
Now I am aware what do I think now of Luke’s guilt? In my mind it is definately in question. I do not want to come out with a statement that Luke is obviously innocent, that feels like too much of a pendulum swing the other way, and I now feel cautious about following too much of a gut reaction in this case. When you have swung wildly to one side you do not balance it out by swinging wildly to the other, but rather by stepping back, keeping an open mind, and assessing everything. I do however believe that there is enough counter evidence to put serious question marks around the investigation and conviction.
I also believe that it is in the public interest to get to the bottom of what happened during the investigation and trial. In a country who’s government has declared it wants to be the “best country in the world for children to grow up,” we appear to have easily forgotten who is a child, when their rights don’t fit the narrative we have chosen, before all the evidence is in.