Corinne Mitchell fights to free her son

HANDS shaking, Corinne Mitchell fiddled with her giant headphones, leaned towards the microphone and delivered as cheerful a birthday message as she could possibly manage. "Hi Lukey! Keep your chin up, carry on and I will get you out of there."

Mrs Mitchell was speaking across the airwaves at an Edinburgh radio station to her son's prison cell at Polmont Young Offenders Institution.

There, her son Luke - the Dalkeith teenager convicted by a jury of the ritualistic-style slaying of his girlfriend Jodi Jones four years ago - "celebrated" his 19th birthday on Tuesday. He is slowly counting down the six months to his appeal hearing.

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Yesterday, the mother of two was at Talk 107's South Gyle studios to give her side of the story.

In a personal, emotional account, she told of the evening police took her son to Dalkeith Police Station and stripped him of his clothes and dressed him in a forensic suit, as she dashed there on foot to be by his side. His portrayal as a devil-worshipping, dope-smoking fiend capable of slaughtering his girlfriend on a quiet lane between their two homes, was drummed up by police leaks and sensationalist media coverage, she insisted.

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And she told of the anguish she faces at her weekly hour-long meetings with her son. "He has no idea how to be 19 years old. He didn't know how to be 16, 17 or 18 years old because he's not had the chance to progress as a normal teenager would," she said.

Talking about her visits to him, she said: "Basically, there's not much to ask each other, just to say what other people have been doing, what his friends have been doing.

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"I don't know quite what to say. I don't want to upset him with him knowing he is missing out on things that his friends are doing."

Her nervous appearance on the talk radio station was the latest stage in a growing campaign to highlight what Mitchell's supporters see as serious flaws in his murder conviction, and follows the publication of a book on miscarriages of justice inspired by his case.

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And it comes in the lead up to what promises to be one of Scotland's most keenly watched court cases - his appeal court hearing.

Lawyers will present eight grounds for Mitchell to be freed, including a claim the trial was prejudiced before it began, because of what the local jury may have seen and heard beforehand.

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Speaking to presenter Mike Graham and accompanied by the book's author, Sandra Lean, Mrs Mitchell claimed she had no idea why police singled out her son.

"There were other parties on that path at the time. Luke wasn't even on the path. I can only put it down to the fact that our dog found where Jodi's body was," she said. "There's absolutely no evidence."

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She also claimed her son's rights had been violated by police who refused to allow her to join him during interviews. And she claimed the pair had both been "tricked" into a television interview, which was widely condemned as insensitive, on the day of Jodi's funeral.

Luke was among a search party that found Jodi Jones' mutilated body on a lane between his Newbattle home and hers in Mayfield on June 30, 2003.

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After a sensational trial with allegations that the killing had been inspired by goth rocker Marilyn Manson's artwork and that Luke had smoked excessive amounts of cannabis, he was eventually convicted by majority verdict of Jodi's murder and sentenced to serve a minimum of 20 years.

During the trial, Corinne and her other son were accused of perjury in their defence of Luke, but the charges were dropped.

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Mrs Mitchell recalled told how she called her son's mobile phone on the evening of the murder to see if Jodi had been found and was told by a police officer to go to Dalkeith Police Station.

"I got there and I couldn't understand why he was wearing a white forensic suit. I asked why he was like this and what had happened. At some point I heard the words 'Jodi' and 'dead'.

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"I asked why they had stripped a 14-year-old child with no other adult present. I was told it was procedure. But it was just 'procedure' for Luke because other members of the search party didn't have that happen to them.

"He looked shocked, very shocked. His eyes were wide, he was white," she added.

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The murder verdict, in January 2005, was "like being hit on the face with a sledgehammer," she said.

"Our worst fear was not proven - we never ever expected guilty. I thought I had not heard the 'not' part, then I heard the other side cheering and it hit me - it was a guilty verdict.

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"Luke was in pure shock. The press said 'he showed no emotion' but it was shock," she continued.

"I've been told I had no parental control, but I had no trouble from Luke. I never had to pace the living room wondering where he was. He was a normal, typical 14-year-old with a very gentle nature."

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Central to the defence appeal case is the claim that Mitchell was denied a fair trial because it was held in Edinburgh before a local jury which may have been prejudiced by the surge of publicity surrounding the killing.

It is thought they will also argue that key evidence was not shared by the prosecution and that police methods used to identify Mitchell near the scene were unfair.

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Lawyers for the teenager are also believed to be preparing an argument over DNA evidence - Mitchell's DNA was not found on Jodi's body, while mystery DNA that was found has never yet been identified.

The case has been set down for a hearing in January.