First Murder Case
The cell under the courtrooms at Blackpool was bare, the walls and floor the dull grey of unpainted concrete. There was no furniture. In the corner of the room crouched down, his head touching his knees, and rocking to and fro was the figure of my client, David W. He was dressed in a curious mix of ill-fitting clothes garnered from some unknown source; his own clothes having been taken for examination by forensic scientists. The door of the cell closed with the thud of heavy metal behind me and for a moment the rocking ceased as he looked in my direction.
‘I loved her. Why would I kill her?’
‘Do you want to tell me about it?’ I said.
The rocking began again. As I waited I thought about David’s wife, Lynn, a thin anxious woman in her early twenties and known locally as the Mandie Queen, on account of her swallowing Mandrax tablets like they were sweets. Her body had been found three days ago lying naked on their bed in a rundown holiday flat on South Shore. The pathologist said she had died as a result of vagal inhibition when pressure was applied to her neck. That assault had resulted in the hyoid bone in her neck being fractured. Although her blood contained a high level of the drugs, they had not been the cause of death, indeed the level was insufficient to have killed her.
David continued to insist he had not murdered her. He said they had both smoked some cannabis and taken other illegally obtained drugs. Lynn had been totally out of it but was demanding he go out and get some food. He’d left her and gone to a local shop where he had bought some bread, ham and milk. When he returned to the flat she was lying on the bed asleep, but when he tried to rouse her he couldn’t. He felt for her pulse and then realised she wasn’t breathing. There was a stash of drugs in the flat, which he decided to get rid of before calling the police, but then he panicked and decided to run for it.
‘I loved her, why would I kill her?’ he repeated.
I didn’t tell him that I was aware he had been violent towards her in the past. Lynn had been to see me a few weeks previously, asking me to represent her in divorce proceedings. I had immediately told her I couldn’t do so as David was already my client, so I didn’t hear what she was complaining about, but a large bruise under her left eye told me all I needed to know.
I stood on the other side of the cell watching him rocking back and forth. It wasn’t really the image I had of a murderer. In my imagination they were tough, brutish, large men with snarling faces, a fairy tale thug, not this disturbed young man with a pale thin face and long dark curly hair who looked more like Prince Charming than a killer.
David maintained his plea of not guilty and the case was heard at Lancaster Assizes in the same court room where the Pendle witches were tried over four hundred years ago. The only issue in the trial was the cause of death, was she strangled or did she die of an overdose. The pathologist I had instructed took the view that the evidence of strangulation was weak, but when in giving evidence he accused the Home Office pathologist of breaking the hyoid bone in a clumsy dissection, the QC representing David advised him to plead guilty to manslaughter and he agreed to do so. He was sentenced to serve six years in prison, some of which he served at Parkhurst in the Isle of Wight, where his brother was serving a sentence for armed robbery.
A few years later the doctor we had instructed to give evidence about the effects of taking large quantities of Methaqualone, the active ingredient of Mandrax tablets sent me a paper published in a scientific journal which argued that the level of Methaqualone, in the kidneys was a better indication of poisoning than that in the blood stream. The levels in Lynn’s kidney was over the safe limit described in the paper.