October 2011 articles archive:

A just verdict - Vincent Tabak

Judge in the trial of Tabak did not not allow the jury to hear some evidence as he felt that it would prejudice the jury.

The jury in the Jo Yeates murder trial have delivered a verdict of guilty of murder on Vincent Tabak.  The jury were not aware that this man was leading a double life until after the verdict had been delivered. On the surface Tabak was a hard working person, well educated and in a relationship - planning and doing normal everyday things - arranging meals out with colleagues and going home for Christmas.  Under that 'normal' exterior was another evil, sadistic and calculating side, a side which the jury were not aware of until after the trial.

The judge decided that it would prejudice the trial if the jury heard that the defendant accessed pornographic sites showing violence against women.  The police recovered computers which Tabak had access to and discovered images of women being 'strangled' during sex and photos of women who had been tied up and placed into car boots. Tabak, it emerged had been in contact with escort agencies in the months prior to the murder and in a trip to California he had accessed other sex sites and been in contact with escorts, checking into a hotel using a false name having made cash withdrawals of $200.  The prosecution believed that this could be evidence of his paying for sexual services. 

None of these findings were revealed to the jury and the judge, Mr Justice Field concluded: "In my judgement, the watching, the possession of porn showing a violence and the threat of violence is reprehensible conduct.

"But even if there was some sexual motivation, this does not go to prove the defendant had the intention to kill her or cause her serious injury."  He felt that any value in explaining the way Tabak acted would not outweigh the prejudice it could cause his defence. The jury was not told of his contact with escort agencies and would only have been aware of the fact that he appeared to be in a loving, monogamous relationship. That same jury did hear that, according to Tabak, Jo had invited him into her flat and had appeared to be flirting with him.

Two people out of the twelve on the jury did not think he was guilty of murder, let us be thankful that they were not able to persuade any of the other ten that this man had simply panicked when sh strated to scream and that it was all a terrible 'accident'.  We may yet hear more horror stories regarding this evil man as we understand police are investigating Tabak for other offences regarding images and material found on his computers.

In sentencing Tabak Mr Justice Field said: "I think there was a sexual element to this killing." He added Tabak had committed "a dreadful, evil act on a vulnerable young woman" and that he intended to go "much further" after attempting to kiss her. "In my view you are very dangerous. In my opinion you are thoroughly deceitful, dishonest and manipulative." Tabak must now serve a minimum of 20 years in prison, some may feel that this is not long enough.  The Criminal Justice Act 2003 allows a minimum term of 30 years to be set if it can be established that sexual or sadistic conduct was involved in an offence.


Rioters - be warned

Anyone thinking that the Court of Appeal was about to find the sentences handed out to the rioters were excessive, would be wrong. The sentences were meant to provide both punishment and deterrence and are likely to remain for the majority of the rioters.

We now know the outcome of the ten appeals against sentences handed out in the aftermath of the August riots.  These have just been heard by the Court of Appeal.  In rejecting all but three of the appeals the Court emphasised that punishments given to offenders by the courts should be "designed to deter others from similar criminal activity."

Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, heard the appeals with the assistance of  the President of the Queen's Bench Division Sir John Thomas and Lord Justice Leveson, and said the "level of lawlessness was utterly shocking and wholly inexcusable".

Among the seven appeals against "excessive" sentences which were thrown out by the judges today, were those brought by two young men who were given four-year terms for setting up Facebook pages inciting others to riot.

Both defendants had appealed for a sentence reduction and acknowledged that what they had done was both stupid and short-sighted.  Lord Judge was satisfied that both had intended to cause "very serious crime" at a time of "sustained countrywide mayhem".

Lord Judge took the view that the sentencing judge was "fully justified" in finding that deterrent sentences were appropriate.

The court of Appeal also upheld the sentences in the three burglary cases which came before the court.  Lord Judge then went on to give his reasoning why the three cases of handling stolen goods should be seen differently from the burglary cases saying “None of these cases of dishonest handling involves someone who handled stolen goods by way of encouragement of the commission of burglary and theft as part of the disorder.

Rather, each represents opportunistic involvement after the burglaries had occurred, and although in close proximity to the scenes of disorder, the appellants did not participate or contribute to them."

Lord Judge went on to say about the responsibility of sentencing: "There is an overwhelming obligation on sentencing courts to do what they can to ensure the protection of the public, whether in their homes or in their businesses or in the street, and to protect the homes and businesses and the streets in which they live and work.

"This is an imperative. It is not, of course, possible now, after the events, for the courts to protect the neighbourhoods which were ravaged in the riots or the people who were injured or suffered damage.

"Nevertheless, the imposition of severe sentences, intended to provide both punishment and deterrence, must follow.

"It is very simple. Those who deliberately participate in disturbances of this magnitude, causing injury and damage and fear to even the most stout-hearted of citizens, and who individually commit further crimes during the course of the riots, are committing aggravated crimes.

"They must be punished accordingly, and the sentences should be designed to deter others from similar criminal activity."


Jury Service - The important and demanding role of the juror.

As the 12 ordinary men and women are sworn in at the trial of Vincent Tabak, accused of murdering Miss Yeates, they face four weeks of hearing some harrowing accounts of events and reaching a verdict at the end.

A juror's role can never be easy but in the case of the trial of Vincent Tabak, accused of murdering 25 year old Joanna Yeates, it is going to be a demanding experience. Mr Justice Field took the first two days to select the six men and six women who will sit on the jury. The case, at Bristol Crown Court, is estimated to last four weeks. Mr Justice Field has warned jurors against reading any background material related to the case. The jurors were told that the case would commence on the Monday following their selection and the judge reminded the court that they should "Put the case entirely out of your mind until Monday morning when the trial proceeds."

Now that the trial has started the jurors will not be able do discuss the case with anyone other than the other members of the jury in the jury deliberation room. These discussions that go on in the jury deliberation room must remain in the deliberation room, that is to say they must not be discussed with other people even after the trial. To do so would mean that the juror would be in 'contempt of court', similarly it is contempt of court to tweet a comment on twitter or post a comment on facebook both during the time of the trial and after. The jurors will be able to speak to the court staff if they are distressed by some of the things they see and hear, the court staff will be able to give them advice. Providing they do not discuss the detail of the trial they will be able to talk about their feelings with their family and friends and some may find it helpful to talk to the Samaritans who will have the experience to help them get over some of the things they have to deal with during the trial.

The importance of the role of the jurors in this case and every case and the demands they will have to face over the next few weeks can not be under-estimated. Already they have heard that Miss Yeates must have put up a desperate fight for her life as Tabak allegedly strangled her with his hands. They have heard the description being built up of a cold and calculated killer and of the bruises and wounds on her body including a broken nose. They have seen pictures of her body as it was found on Christmas Day, something the parents of Miss Yeates could not bear to see. On the second day of the trial the jurors were asked to retrace her footsteps on the evening of the murder and visited her flat, which remained frozen in time. The jury were escorted to the various locations by the police and were transported by bus.

Now they are listening to witness statements and hearing from people who may have heard her final screams that night but put the noise down to partying youngsters.

Tabak has pleaded guilty of manslaughter but it will be up to the jurors to decide if he had intended to kill her or cause really serious harm. These are ordinary men and women who have been chosen and they must listen to all the evidence before they can make a decision on the verdict. They will be advised at the end of the trial what they should consider and the questions they need to find the answers to in order to come to a decision. The person selected as the spokesperson or foreman will deliver the verdict and say whether the jury thinks he is guilty or not guilty. If all 12 members of the jury agree it will be a unanimous verdict. If they are unable to agree on the verdict after deliberating for two or three days the judge might accept a majority verdict, that is one that 10 or 11 of the 12 jurors agree on. Should the jury be split and unable to change their minds there will be no verdict and the jury is said to be a hung jury.


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