DNA - LEWIS J. PETERS
Originally appeared at A Novel Story, Lewis's blog
In A Possible Near Future...
Before opening it, Eddie had not known who the letter was from. He laughed out loud to himself when he saw it was signed off, ‘Your loving mother, Maureen.’
Rich. No contact for twenty-five years but now she says she loves me.
Eddie glanced at the rest of the page. Maureen said she knew he could not commit murder, wanted ‘to be there’ and begged him to have a prison Visiting Order issued.
Bollocks to her, Eddie decided. He had enough on his plate defending the charge without having to deal with a mother he had not seen in nearly three decades. He screwed up the letter and took satisfaction from throwing it into his bin at the first attempt.
It was not the only letter Eddie opened in his cell that morning. His solicitor had written ‘Rule 39’ on the outside of the other handed to him by the screw after roll call. This meant it could not be read by the prison authorities. In Eddie’s experience, confidential legal communications generally contained bad news.
He was not disappointed. The lawyer explained that the prosecution had served the forensic evidence it intended to rely on. Highlighted was the DNA ‘hit’ from the victim’s body. The scientific report stated that the chances of the recovered semen not coming from the defendant were one in a billion.
According to the solicitor, this was one of the highest statistical matches he had encountered during his career. He would, of course, have the results verified by an independent expert. However, he ‘felt compelled to express the gravest concern about the implications of this evidence for the defence.’
How could this be? Eddie knew he was not anywhere near the crime scene at the relevant time. The stain on the victim’s clothes simply could not be from him. OK, so he had been arrested before - that was how they had identified him from the national DNA database - but not for anything like this.
The reintroduction of the death penalty into UK law had been achieved through the Homicide Reform Act. Supporters argued loud and strong that scientific advances had made miscarriages of justice far less likely than in the past. The public were persuaded and the politicians fell in line. Intended to be reserved for the worst cases, media speculation was rife that, as Eddie’s alleged offence involved murder for sexual gratification, his could be the first case to see the use of the death penalty following the change in the law.
Eddie was now in no doubt there was a strong case against him. He sat on his bed staring at a white painted cell wall. Far removed from the stereotype of a decrepit prison, his surroundings were modern, clean and functional. There was plenty of natural light and the lingering fragrance from an early morning application of air freshener. Despite this, Eddie struggled to fight down waves of nausea as he contemplated the future.
Hemmed in, desperate, he started to hyperventilate. Eddie’s distress was seen on the in-cell CCTV surveillance. Prison officers got to him just as he passed out.
Eddie shielded his eyes as the camera flashes penetrated the darkened windows of the prison transport. Hostile chants of the crowd assembled outside the courthouse were accompanied by loud bangs on the side of the vehicle as the police cordon was breached by a small group of rabble rousers. Suddenly, the driver swung the van into a sharp right turn before bringing it to an abrupt stop. Eddie was pitched from the hard seat into the wall of the small cell. Christ, I've been judged before the trial has started.
In the Crown Court holding cell, Eddie met with his two barristers - leader and junior - and solicitor. He was asked if he had thought about what had been discussed the week before when they had seen him in prison. The senior barrister reiterated that an acceptance of guilt could, quite literally, make the difference between life and death. On a guilty plea, the judge was likely to pass a life sentence. Life would mean life with no possibility of parole. However, the death penalty, he advised, could be avoided.
“Should I plead guilty to something I haven’t done?” asked Eddie.
“No,” replied the barrister. “But it’s not as straightforward as that. You have to take into account the strength of the evidence against you. Ask yourself this, ‘If the evidence against me is overwhelming, should I take the gamble when I know I can guarantee myself a lesser penalty?’”
The conversation continued in circles. Always, it came back to the DNA match and that one in a billion statistic. The experts instructed by the defence had not been able to fault the methodology and the conclusions of the prosecution scientists.
“Eddie,” the solicitor eventually said, “we need a decision. The case will be called on in a few minutes and we must have your final say.”
“Then I say I am not guilty. I was not there. I did not attack that girl. The semen could not have been mine.”
The lawyers passed a look between them. The senior barrister was the first to speak, “If that is your final word, we must have your instructions in writing. I am going up to the courtroom now. Your solicitor will write out something for you to sign and I will tell the judge the trial will proceed.”
Eddie awoke, as usual, just before the early morning buzzer went off in his cell. It was three and a half years since the verdict and sentence. Six months ago, the final, unsuccessful domestic appeal had been heard.
Lying on the seat of his chair were two envelopes. He recognised the writing on one to be that of his mother. The other was stamped with the logo of the European Court of Human Rights. They had arrived the previous day but he had not been able to bring himself to do anything with them.
Eddie opened the envelope from the court. So many disappointments. One more did not, this morning, seem to matter. The summary, delivered orally by the tribunal, he already knew from having spoken to his solicitor on the phone. There had been a fair trial in the judgement of the court and the possibility of intervening in the sentence had been specifically excluded by the Homicide Reform Act. Without reading the detail, he threw the papers to one side.
He was becoming resigned. Eddie still felt fierce indignation but the fight had dissipated. Stamina ebbing away, he sensed the need to protect himself from further disappointment.
Eddie looked at the envelope from his mother. She had written to him regularly during the trial and at least once per week since. He had steadfastly refused to open any of the envelopes and had disposed of them all. However, today, something inside gave way and he slipped his thumb under the seal.
His mother’s words were pleading, desperate. Maureen needed to see him, had to show him the love that, she claimed, was undiminished by their estrangement. Eddie relented and made arrangements for the Visiting Order to be issued.
The prison visitors' centre was busy. Maureen felt out of place. For many waiting with her, a visit to a prisoner was part of the normal routine of life. Colleagues in crime, surly older women and girlfriends with impressive cleavages specially on display for their sweethearts mixed with anxious Asian girls and bored probation officers.
Sitting opposite Eddie at the visits table, his mother’s tears flowed freely from the outset. She gushed regret. Eddie felt little. The lost twenty-five years weighed heavily on her now that her son faced the death penalty. Eddie could not bring himself to say anything that would comfort her. It had been her decision to make the rift permanent. She would have to live with that.
Eventually, Maureen had to ask the question. “I believe I do still know my own son. You ran with the wrong crowd and I always knew when you lied to me. I’ll know again if you do not tell me the truth now. I don’t want any details but, yes or no, did you kill that poor girl?”
There was a pause. The weight of the last five years bore down on Eddie. “No, Mum. I did not.” Eddie let go at last and broke down.
It was getting close now, the date set for the execution. For Eddie, the days had started to merge and time seemed to be speeding up.
His mother came to see him regularly. As the gap between them closed, they talked little of the case. It was mostly reminiscence about his childhood. The son of a single parent, it only began to dawn on Eddie now how much of Maureen’s young life had been sacrificed for him. His mother had struggled but succeeded in giving him opportunities and options, gifts he had squandered because of the false promise of a more exciting life offered by dubious friends.
As the time grew nearer, Eddie struggled to find any peace. He had started to draw comfort from the reconciliation with his mother but it also made worse the knowledge that he was going to receive a lethal injection for something he had not done. How could the DNA have matched?
Maureen came to the prison for what she knew would be the final visit. She had almost turned back at the visitors’ centre. The prospect of saying a last goodbye was too much but she could not let him down and, in any event, there was something she needed him to know.
Normally, visits were limited to two hours. Today, they were allowed four. Eddie put on a brave face for his mother throughout. She was, at last, proud of him.
Towards the end of the visit, Eddie’s mother steeled herself and said, “I have kept an awful secret from you all these years. It’s not right that we should part for the last time time without you knowing everything. I was so young when I became pregnant. My family and your father didn’t want to know. I knew I had to fend for myself. I couldn’t cope with two of you.”
Eddie was startled. “What do you mean ‘two of us’?”
“Oh, Eddie, I was so desperate.” Tears sprang into Maureen’s eyes. “I pleaded with them in the hospital to take one of you. Eventually, the social workers took him away for adoption.”
“Who, mother? Who did the social workers take for adoption?” Eddie's eyes were wide with astonishment. Realisation was swift in coming.
“Your twin brother, of course.”
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
13 hours ago