Luke Mitchell's lawyers launch sentence appeal

LAWYERS for killer Luke Mitchell have launched a new appeal bid - claiming he should have his minimum jail sentence cut because he was a child at the time of Jodi Jones' murder.

Mitchell, pictured, was given a life sentence and ordered to serve at least 20 years after he was convicted of the murder of his 14-year-old girlfriend whose naked, bound and mutilated body was found in woods in 2003.

Mitchell was aged 14 when he committed the murder, but 16 when he was found guilty by a jury at the High Court in Edinburgh and trial judge Lord Nimmo Smith passed the longest sentence handed down to a youth in Scotland at the time.

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After judges at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh rejected a move to have a further ground of appeal against his conviction heard today a legal challenge was made against the length of his sentence.

His counsel Gordon Jackson QC told the court that the question posed was a straightforward one and said: "Whether or not it is appropriate to have a 20-year punishment part for an action committed when the person was 14?

"I maintain the position it is not appropriate to say to someone who committed an offence at 14, a child in law and in reality a child, we will decide now that you will not be released until the 20 years is up.

It is not appropriate to do that to a child," said the defence counsel .

"My question is whether or not as a society we wish to say to a child for what you did as a child we won't even look at your case again for 20 years. The question is whether a civilised society should give children sentences like that," he said.

Mr Jackson told the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, sitting with Lord Hardie and Lady Cosgrove, that there was an argument that punishment parts of sentence – minimum terms to be served under life sentences before the offender becomes eligible to apply for release – should not apply to children.

The defence counsel pointed out that any ultimate decision to free Mitchell, now 21, would be determined by the Parole Board and he might never be released.

Mr Jackson said he accepted that the sentencing judge had taken age into account when dealing with Mitchell and made it clear that had it been an adult criminal the minimum sentence would have been more than 20 years.

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The three appeal judges reserved their decision on Mitchell's sentence appeal and will give a ruling at a later date.

Mitchell had denied murdering Jodi but was found guilty in 2005 and Lord Nimmo Smith ordered he be detained without limit of time – a youth life sentence.

The victim's body was discovered beside a path which joined her home in the Easthouses area of Dalkeith with Mitchell's house in the Newbattle district.

She had suffered terrible injuries in the attack which were compared to those inflicted in the Black Dahlia murder of would-be Hollywood actress Elizabeth Short in 1947, which later featured in paintings by rock star Marilyn Manson. It was claimed cannabis-smoking Mitchell was a fan of Manson's art.

After months of suspicion he was charged and brought to trial. After Mitchell's conviction Lord Nimmo Smith said the photos of the girl's injuries were the worst he had seen.

Mitchell, who maintained his innocence, appealed against his conviction but his challenge was rejected by appeal judges in 2008.

However one of his proposed grounds of appeal claiming that there was compelling circumstantial evidence against other individuals was not argued and part of today's proceedings was a bid to have it heard. Part of it claimed that a condom found about 50 metres from the scene linked another man to the murder scene at or around the time of the offence.

Mr Jackson said the appeal ground concerned additional evidence over "the possibility pointing towards others who might have been involved in this."

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He said previous defence lawyers had taken a decision to abandon that ground, but on the information he had he would have no difficulty in arguing it.

But advocate depute Alan Mackay said there was nothing extraordinary or unforeseen about the circumstances and it was an attempt to get round the finality provisions of the appeal process.

He said the Crown did not accept that there was any evidence linking the man whose DNA was found with the condom to the crime scene. He added: "There is DNA linking him to a position approximately 50 metres away from the crime scene."

The appeal judges refused Mitchell's petition to seek to have the additional ground of appeal heard.

Mr Jackson told the court that if the move was refused then an application would go the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, which was set up to look into alleged miscarriages of justice and can refer cases to the appeal court.