The big story this week in the UK has been the acquittal of Barry George in his retrial for the murder of TV presenter Jill Dando. At the time of his arrest and initial conviction, I had serious doubts about his guilt.
Having been a criminal defense attorney, I was aware of two things. First, since I hadn’t seen all of the evidence, I was not best placed to make any truly informed opinion about it. Second, I had seen police frame-ups since before I was admitted to Bar. I was practicing under supervision as a law student in a criminal defense clinic when I won back-to-back supression of evidence hearings against undercover narcotics officers who had no qualms about bald-face lying under oath. (My double win surprised both my supervising attorney and the assistant prosecutor, but that’s another story.)
What was obvious at the time was that the police needed to make a case. This was the highest profile murder in the UK for years. Dando was a presenter of the BBC series Crimewatch. The show was responsible for putting dozens of criminals behind bars. The Met were under a lot of public pressure. And if you want to know how the Met responds when they are under lots of pressure ask Jean Charles de Menezes. Oh, wait, sorry, he’s dead. Ask Harry Stanley, then. No, wait, sorry, he’s dead, too.
Sure, Barry George is a nutter. His mental illness is compounded by his Asperger’s (and I make a clear distinction between the two). That didn’t make him a killer. He was a bit of a pest to women. That’s a long way from sidling up behind one on her doorstep and putting a bullet in the back of her head.
It’s like when the cops tried to spin that he was obsessed with Dando because they found eight newspapers in his flat with articles about her in them. What they didn’t say was that they found a total of 800 newpapers in his flat, so it is not surprising that eight of them had articles about a celebrity TV presenter.
Even though there were eyewitnesses that placed Barry impossibly away from Dando’s Gowan Avenue address, the one piece of circumstantial evidence the police relied on was a single grain of gunpowder reside on a coat belonging to George, found by police a year after the murder. After all, it wasn’t found until after it had been placed on a mannequin by police to be photographed as evidence. Barry doesn’t know how it got there, but I’m afraid I have to go with his suspicion that it was planted there by the police. I’ve known nutters and I’ve known police. Barry only has an IQ of 75, but I’m going with the nutter on this one.
The police maintain that they got their man, but after eight years in prison he got away. They have to do that in order to save face. As a result, it is very unlikely that they will make any real effort to find the real killer of Jill Dando.