'JUNK' FORENSIC SCIENCE LANDED MOTHER OF THREE IN JAIL FOR HUSBAND'S KILLING
On the evening of 23 April 2004, Elizabeth Donoghue was upstairs in her Hertfordshire home, running a bath and speaking on the phone.
She heard two loud bangs. At first, she thought it was a bus backfiring nearby. But when she opened the bathroom door, the smell hit her and she knew something was wrong.
Downstairs, she found her husband James in the living room lying in a pool of blood. Lizzi screamed. Police and paramedics called by neighbours arrived soon after. Lizzi, in a state of shock, was taken to hospital. She later found out that James was pronounced dead at the scene, having been shot twice.
In May the next year Lizzi was convicted of James’ murder along with the friend she had been on the phone with that night who the police insisted was her lover. The prosecution argued that the pair planned the killing in order to cash in on a life insurance policy, which they mistakenly claimed had a forged signature.
Lizzi’s conviction was secured on the basis of 'junk' forensic science.
The crime reconstruction presented to support the prosecution case that Lizzi let her friend in to kill James by the back door of the house is inconsistent with what is known from the actual crime scene photos and the pathologist's report.
Moreover, claims made that cell site analysis – a field of forensics then in its relative infancy – could be used to pinpoint Lizzi’s location within the house were pure nonsense.
The prosecution case also relied heavily on the forensics of firearms identification – the limitations of which are now much better understood. Gaps in the case were filled in with unreliable witness testimony of the man who admitted to possession of the supposed murder weapon.
Unfortunately, the police investigation into James’ death suffered from tunnel vision: other lines of enquiry were not followed up, including suggestions his killing was drug-related.
Lizzi is serving a minimum 30-year life sentence in prison, where she is renowned for her readiness to help other prisoners. Lizzi is sustained by the love and support of her three children and her mum, who remain convinced that she is the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
Lizzi's children Helen, Paul and Claire were just teenagers when their much loved stepdad James was killed and their mum convicted. "In our eyes the person that done it is still out there. I just want my mum out," Helen says.
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