My son's bed is ready for him

WHEN Corrine Mitchell takes her seat in the Criminal Court of Appeal in Edinburgh early next month, she will be torn by a mixture of highly-charged emotions.

After standing by her son ever since he was convicted of the horrific murder of Dalkeith schoolgirl Jodi Jones four years ago, she has become a figure of hate.

Now she is daring to hope that she will soon be counting the days until he is free. Luke Mitchell, now 19, who has served four years at Polmont Young Offenders Institution, will walk into the Criminal Court of Appeal in Edinburgh early next month for the start of an eight-day hearing that will shape the rest of his life.

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"I'm not sure I really know how to feel about the appeal," Mrs Mitchell said. "I'm excited that it's going ahead, but I'm concerned too, because you just do not know what might happen."

Her son's legal team claims it has new evidence to back its argument that Luke Mitchell – aged 14 at the time of Jodi's murder in June, 2003 – was not his girlfriend's killer.

If the trio of judges accept his lawyers' suggestions of two other potential suspects in the case, Mrs Mitchell's son may be on his way home. If they don't, he will return to prison to serve the rest of his sentence – a further 16 years.

"I really hope his legal team are on the ball because in my opinion his trial lawyers really screwed up," says his mother, 47, speaking from the family home in Newbattle. "I don't know what will happen, if he'll be freed at the end of the appeal or if he'll have to wait. But his bed is made up and ready for him."

Jodi was apparently on her way to meet her boyfriend in the late afternoon of June 30, 2003 when her killer pounced as she walked along a path behind Newbattle Community High School, which would have taken her towards Luke Mitchell's family home.

It was just before midnight that night when a search party, which included Luke Mitchell, discovered her mutilated body behind a wall on the countryside path.

She had been stabbed around 20 times and her body systematically disfigured. Several months later Jodi's boyfriend was charged. He was convicted of her murder after a High Court trial, in January, 2005, after which the judge branded him "truly evil".

Since then he has languished in his cell at Polmont, and despite the 60-plus miles round trip, his mother has rarely missed her weekly visit. "He seems to be taking things in his stride," she says, referring to her most recent visit on Tuesday evening.

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"But then, he's really got no choice. He could just stand there, biting his fingernails and looking terrified, but what's the point?"

Despite the approaching appeal, Christmas was miserable, she adds. "I crawled through Christmas and New Year – it was horrible to get up to an empty house on Christmas morning knowing Luke was waking up in a prison cell.

"He chose to work at Christmas and New Year – I suppose to keep his mind occupied. He has a job in the laundry.

Christmas was pretty miserable. Christmas dinner was a slab of turkey roll – it's not the place anyone would choose to be."

By February 5, the waiting should be over and Luke Mitchell will once again appear in court.

The court is expected to hear claims from his defence team suggesting a drug user at Newbattle Abbey College in Dalkeith at the time is one of two potential suspects.

"The trouble was the police had already decided from the minute Jodi's body was found that it was Luke that did it," says Mrs Mitchell, whose caravan business and home were subjected to attacks in the wake of her son's conviction.

"This suspect, I've been told, was known about at the time of Jodi's death but he wasn't investigated. Their minds were already made up that it was Luke and they didn't bother to consider anything else.

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"As far as I'm concerned, the police involved should go on trial because they have ruined two families' lives – our lives and Jodi's family's lives too.

"The investigation let everyone down – people in Dalkeith too, who now have to wonder if the person that killed Jodi is still out there and could do it again."

She has not considered compensation should her son win his appeal. Instead, she is more concerned at how he will adapt to life on the outside as a young man at the centre of one of Scotland's most notorious murder trials.

"Luke has been in jail for four years now. He went in as a 15-year-old, now he's 19 and a young man," she says.

"But he doesn't know how to be a typical 19-year-old. He hasn't been into a pub with his pals, he's not been out clubbing.

"It's going to be a long process for him when he comes out because he was just a laddie when he went inside.

"We know, too, that people will recognise him and there'll be jibes. He'll get a lot of attention – and who knows how anyone would cope with that? We'll probably stay at home, petrified. I certainly wouldn't except the police to offer him any support or help in dealing with people who want to have a go at him. They are the last people Luke would want to be around him after what they've already done to him."

Detective Chief Superintendent Craig Dobbie, who led the murder inquiry, vigorously defended the police investigation.

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Mr Dobbie said that every care was taken to ensure every single piece of evidence from the crime scene was recovered.

The investigation into Jodi's death was one of the biggest ever carried out by Lothian and Borders Police. Officers interviewed more than 2000 people in the course of the inquiry and took DNA samples from members of the public who were in the vicinity of the murder scene on the night she was killed.