Friday, March 13, 2009

DNA clears British ‘killer’ Sean Hodgson after 30 years in jail

It's too easy to put away the mentally ill and let the real killer go free. A similar thing happened in Australia's Mallard case

A convicted murderer who has spent nearly 30 years in prison for the death of a young woman in 1979 could not have been the killer, according to new DNA tests. The case of Sean Hodgson, 58, has been referred to the Court of Appeal as a matter of urgency by the Criminal Cases Review Commission and he is expected to be freed next week. The commission said that the findings raised serious concerns about the safety of many other murder convictions and called for a wideranging review of scores of cases.

A spokesman said: “We have decided to contact the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss the desirability of a project to identify and review similar murder cases arising from the time before DNA testing and where testable forensic evidence still survives, which could confirm or cast doubt on the safety of a conviction, and where the defendant is still alive. A guilty plea or the existence of admissions should not exclude cases.”

Julian Young, Hodgson’s solicitor, said: “Will this open the floodgates? I would say anyone who believes that they’ve been wrongly convicted, and thinks DNA tests would help, should contact a lawyer immediately.”

Hodgson, who is mentally ill and held in the hospital wing of Albany jail, was convicted in 1982 of the murder of Teresa de Simone, 22, whose body was found in her car in Southampton in December 1979.

If the conviction is overturned, Hodgson would be one of the longest-serving victims of a miscarriage of justice. The only comparable case is that of Stephen Downing, who was jailed for 27 years for beating typist Wendy Sewell to death in Bakewell, Derbyshire, but released in 2002. Hodgson has continued to protest his innocence but it was only after his solicitors asked last year for a review and DNA testing, a technique that was not available at the time of his trial, that his case was referred.

Hampshire police have now reopened their files and the force is conducting a new murder investigation to find the real killer. A source said: “It is a live and active inquiry.”

Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, will hear the case next Wednesday and it is understood that arrangements are being made for Hodgson to be released into appropriate care. Prosecutors are not expected to oppose the challenge and the commission said there was “a real possibility that the court will consider the conviction unsafe and quash it”.

Miss de Simone, a gas board clerk and part-time barmaid, had been sexually assaulted before being choked to death with the chain of a gold crucifix that she wore around her neck.

Hodgson, of no fixed abode, confessed to a Roman Catholic prison chaplain, Father Frank Moran, that he had killed Miss de Simone when she found him sleeping in her car and began screaming. He said he put his hand over her mouth to try to keep her quiet and ended up killing her.

The confession was made on the first anniversary of Miss de Simone’s death, and Hodgson told the priest that the image of her face was haunting him. The prosecution case was aided by scientific evidence that showed that Hodgson was of the same blood type as the attacker.

But at his trial, at Winchester Crown Court in 1982, Hodgson withdrew his confession and pleaded not guilty. It emerged that he had confessed to hundreds of other crimes, including burglaries that had never been committed, and that the killer’s blood type was common.

Hodgson, who is also known by the first name Robert, did not give evidence. According toThe Timesof February 2 1982, he told the court: “I would like to tell members of the jury I cannot go into the witness box itself because I am a pathological liar.”

But at the end of a 15-day trial, the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict having deliberated for only 3½ hours. Mr Justice Sheldon, the trial judge, told Hodgson: “It is a verdict with which I entirely agree. I have no doubt whatsoever that you were guilty of this appalling, horrible crime of killing that girl.”

Hodgson was refused leave to appeal against his conviction the next year and has continued to protest his innocence. Last year his case was taken over by a new legal team. His solicitor asked Hampshire Police to review the evidence and specifically to carry out DNA testing. The Forensic Science Service had stored material from the case in its archives and DNA tests were carried out on body fluids from the crime scene. When compared with Hodgson’s DNA profile, they showed that he was not Miss de Simone’s attacker. The case was passed to the CCRC, which referred it to the Court of Appeal as a matter of urgency.

Mr Young said last night of Hodgson: “He is obviously pleased the matter is going forward. He is excited because he is going to be seeing the outside world for the first time in a number of years. We hope he will be released on Wednesday and he will have to make a new life for himself.”

Mary Sedotti, Miss de Simone’s mother, said she was upset and distressed that her daughter’s killer had not been caught and that she was having to relive the events of three decades ago. She added: “He should not have confessed at the time.”

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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