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article imageOp-Ed: Michael Stone, Edgar Steele, and other 'unsavouries'

By Alexander Baron     Jul 21, 2011 in Crime
The acquittal of Florida mother Casey Anthony is by no means the only controversial verdict rendered recently, but convicting the innocent is even worse.
When Casey Anthony was acquitted of all but four misdemeanors in her recent murder trial, the American public was outraged, and after her release she was spirited away to a secret destination amidst concerns for vigilante action against her. A woman in Oklahoma has already been subjected to a bizarre and potentially fatal attack in a case of mistaken identity.
The flip side to acquitting the “obviously guilty” is the conviction of defendants who are unappealling, to put it mildy, but who may well be innocent.
There are of course many such defendants the world over, but listed below are four, including one who has yet to be tried. In no particular order they are:
Edgar Steele, whose trial and conviction was discussed here at some length in May. Leaving aside the political angle, there are two aspects of this case that should give anyone who is truly concerned with justice serious cause for reflection: the slap on the wrist the government informant and perpetrator Larry Fairfax received; and the handling of the forensic evidence, an incriminatory audio tape of dubious authenticity.
Steele’s wife – who was said to be his intended victim - has now published what purports to be the full transcript of the trial on the Free Edgar Steele blog. For those who have the time to analyse it, and possibly do something more, it can be found here.
On this side of the Pond, another case with a political dimension was back in the news this morning. Syed Talha Ahsan was arrested on July 19, 2006 following a request for extradition to the United States. Unconvicted of any offence, he has been in prison ever since.
The indictment against Ahsan can be found here. Although much of it is bluster, it does make a couple of specific allegations which should be tested in a courtroom. The two big questions are: should he be extradited to the United States or tried in Britain; and how much longer is this man – or any prisoner - to be held without trial? Surprising as it may seem, there have been at least two other extradition prisoners who have been held for longer than Ahsan in Britain without trial, and neither of them were terrorist cases.
Michael Stone – Britain’s longest serving miscarriage of justice prisoner – was due back in the High Court earlier this week, or at least his lawyers were. They were set to argue against the refusal of the Criminal Cases Review Commission to refer his conviction for the July 1996 Chillenden Murders back to the Court of Appeal. This could be good news for Stone though; for legal reasons the only thing that can be reported here is that an expert witness has been sought and found to take a further look at what little forensic evidence there is. After the recent conviction of Levi Bellfield for the March 2002 murder of schoolgirl Amanda Dowler, Stone’s legal team pressurised Kent Police to re-open the investigation, but their appeals fell on deaf ears.
While Michael Stone could be tried a third time for the Chillenden Murders, Omar Benguit has already been tried three times for the same murder, and is hoping soon to be either retried following a successful appeal or better still, to walk free. Like Stone, Benguit is an unappealling individual, and like Stone he was convicted on the most tenuous of evidence. Although his conviction is not as absurd as Stone’s supposed shouted confession conviction, it raises another issue besides how little evidence is needed to convict a man of murder, and that is, how much evidence does it take to convict a man of murder?
For those interested in the details of Benguit’s case, the 2005 appeal judgment can be found here, and for those who wonder why Danilo Restivo was not charged instead, some background information can be found here.
Last month, Restivo was convicted of the November 2002 murder of Heather Barnett; Benguit’s supporters believe he was also responsible for the murder of student Jong-Ok Shin earlier the same year. It remains to be seen why the police don’t.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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