This is a horrendous story:
A man jailed for murdering a barmaid 27 years ago could be released from prison after DNA evidence was reviewed.
Sean Hodgson is serving a life sentence for killing Teresa De Simone, 22. She was found strangled in her car in Southampton in December 1979.
The case has now been sent to appeal over claims tests on semen found at the scene prove it was not Hodgson’s DNA.
The BBC understands the Crown Prosecution Service will not contest the appeal on 18 March.
But here’s the thing:
Hodgson made various confessions to the murder but his defence said he was a pathological liar and the confessions were untrue.
When I’ve argued with people about the death penalty, the discussion often focuses on the cases where you are “absolutely certain” that a person is guilty. That is, not merely sure, beyond reasonable doubt: but in no doubt at all, that a person is guilty.
Where, for example, a person has confessed.
Anybody with any involvement in the criminal justice process will know that it is filled with defendants who are hopeless cases, and whose grip on reality is tenuous. That, very often, is why they commit crimes. It is also why even a confession is not sufficient for absolute certainty. Here is another case that demonstrates that this is so.
Remember, also, Judith Ward.
There is no such thing as an absolutely safe conviction. If you’re happy with that, and you’re still in favour of the death penalty, fair enough. But don’t kid yourself.
Instead, remember the words of Douglas Hurd, the Home Secretary who was responsible for freeing a number of wrongly convicted prisoners. On making the announcement, he expressed his relief that he wasn’t reading the news out over the grave of an executed innocent.
With reference to the discussion below…
The purpose of punishment is retribution. Within that main aim, the goals of deterrence, incapacitation, and even reformation may be achieved, albeit inevitably in an imperfect manner.
But the boundaries of the criminal justice system are set by the principle of retribution: that a criminal should receive his just deserts.
That function does not end on conviction. If it cannot be put right when a conviction is found to be unsafe, then justice is undermined, fundamentally.