Review 2011: Defendants and the Courts

For 2011 we decided to look not just at the victims of homicide in London but also the defendants who have been arrested, charged and put on trial.

The year has seen several major convictions: the suspected serial killer John Sweeney was given a whole life sentence for two murders, seven teenagers were jailed for killing 16 year-old Nicholas Pearton and two gang members were convicted of shooting the 16 year-old schoolgirl Agnes Sina-Inakoju dead at a pizza shop.

More easily forgotten are the acquittals of nine men of the murder of 20 year-old David Cauchi Lechmere. Not guilty verdicts are for obvious reasons not given the prominence of guilty verdicts, unless it is a particularly notorious case.

So throughout the year we attempted to add each conviction or acquittal to a database in the hope that it might shed light on the workings of the justice system.

Now for the basics. There are 181 defendants, of which 174 were charged with murder and seven with manslaughter. But how did their cases end up? Here’s the obligatory pie chart.

Of the 174 defendants charged with murder, 37 ended up convicted of manslaughter (21 of those by pleading guilty), 14 were convicted of a lesser offence (not homicide) and 37 were acquitted of all charges (one was acquitted by reason of insanity). Three were found unfit to stand trial.

Only one of the seven defendants charged with manslaughter was acquitted (two pleaded guilty, four were convicted).

The punishment for murder is always a life sentence – the only variation is in the minimum term set by the judge before the defendant can apply for parole. The starting point for this minimum term is 15 years but it is increased depending on aggravating features such as the weapon used, the motive for the murder and the number of victims.

Disregarding those defendants who have not yet been sentenced, and the one defendant who was sentenced to a whole life term, the average minimum term appears to be just over 22 years and four months.

As for manslaughter, there are many more options. Three defendants were jailed for life with minimum terms of 20, 16 and 7 years. Four were given sentences of ‘imprisonment for public protection (IPP), which is similar to a life sentence but with a shorter minimum term. Twenty-four were given ‘determinate’ sentences of imprisonment (with release on parole after serving half), six were detained under the Mental Health Act and two walked free from court with suspended sentences (both were cases of ‘mercy killing’).

Another interesting statistic is that a quarter of all defendants were teenagers.

More than two thirds of defendants knew the person they were accused of killing (129 vs 52). The figure of 52 ‘stranger’ murders also includes those cases where the defendant first met the victim on the day of the attack. The number of random stranger murders is far less.

The breakdown of how the defendants knew their victim is roughly illustrated by this pie chart.

Finally we looked at the length of time it took from the date of the offence to the date the verdict was announced, rounding up to the next month (i.e one month 14 days is recorded as two months).

Generally cases are resolved in about a year, but there are some that take much longer. This is usually because the killer has not been identified, as in the case of James Citro, who murdered Nijole Siskeviciene in 1998 but was not convicted until October 2011.

We also tried to monitor which cases were associated with alcohol use, drugs, mental health and suspected gang links. This tends to be much more subjective, although it was of interest that 48 of the 181 defendants were accused of murders that were said to have gang links (either the victim or the accused was suspected to be a member of a gang).

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