The investigation teams, police, judges and courts rely strongly on the forensic medical evidence and use the evidence to build up their efforts. The prime aim is to punish the guilty while avoid connecting the innocent. Interpretation of forensic medical evidence and their role have significantly expanded through the justice system. Steve Wright was found guilty of killing five prostitutes and faces life in jail for the murders. The Ipswich Prostitute Murders made headlines not only in Britain but also caught the attention of Inernatiosnl media. The essay looks at how forensic science and the evidence collected helped to nail the murderer.
Ever since the 1930s, the police and courts in the United States are showing an increasing reliance on science for solving crime case and prevail justice. Advanced scientific techniques are being employed to examine physical clues. Scientific breakthroughs in such fields as DNA testing and their effectiveness on biological evidence is much higher and reliable as compared to collecting fingerprints. Research shows that the forensic evidence clearly impacts the decision points in the justice process. It is expected that the need for forensic services is only going to increase in the coming years (Peterson et al., 2013).
In cases of serial murder, it is often difficult to catch criminals, as there is no motive here to kill. Serial killers have their careers spanning years or even decades before they get caught. There is no relationship between the killer and his victim, and they are essentially strangers to each other (Ryder, 2013).
The Ipswich Prostitute Murders
The Ipswich Prostitute Murders took place in 2006. Five women were murdered near Ipswich, Suffolk, England at different locations and one similarity in all these women was that they were working as prostitutes. However, there were no signs of sexual assault on these women who were discovered naked. The cause of death for two of the women was found to be asphyxiation, but the cause of death for the other was not established. There were two arrests made in connection with these murders. However, one of them, who was never named was released without charge. Steven Gerald James Wright, a Forklift truck driver, was arrested on suspicion regarding the murders of all five women. He appealed not guilty to the charges when his trial began in 2008 at Ipswich Crown Court. He did admit to having sexual relations with all five victims. Forensic evidence based on DNA and fiber linked him to the victims. Thus, he was found guilty of all five murders and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The forensic sciences have made dramatic scientific breakthroughs over the past twenty-five years, and these have played a significant role in criminal case processing. The forensic laboratories have increased in numbers phenomenally, and this is because of the growing reliance of the police and courts on forensic sciences. There has been the scientific breakthrough in fields as DNA. Early cases during the 1960s and 1970s had little help as the forensic science evidence was not advanced. There was very little scientific evidence collected, and it had almost no impact on case outcome (Peterson et al., 2010). The use of DNA testing in forensic cases has grown substantially since 2003, and their results link offenders to crime scenes and victims (Beaver, 2010). Still, the cases with strong forensic evidence undergo investigator and prosecutor screening.
The forensic scientists are supposed to work in a neutral manner. When any evidence is brought to the court, the witnesses are examined and questioned. The more familiar evidence in forensics such as DNA, hair samples, are used for identification purpose. The forensic physicians offer care and support to the victims, the police officers and determine if the suspect is fit to be interviewed (Akerman, 2004).
Background of the case
The Ipswich Prostitute Murders got the large amount of attention from the media both nationally and internationally, as these murders were compared to Yorkshire Ripper, the murderer who killed 13 women. There were debates all over and in the media regarding the laws and safety of prostitutes.
The bodies of three women had been found within six days, and this clearly pointed out to the possibility of a serial killer on the prowl. The police issued constant warnings, but the prostitutes needed to work for their living. Even though a prostitute killer was on loose, these women continued to work. Moreover, soon, two more bodies were found.
Wright denied knowing the girls at first. Later he admitted having Tania in his car. His DNA matched with saliva on their bodies, and this proved that he was the man who was with all five victims. The police were busy getting together hair fragments, blood particles, fibers, CCTV pictures of his car, etc. Wright always pleaded his innocence and was convicted of the five murders (The Ipswich Prostitute Murders, 2015).
The women who were found murdered were Tania Nicol, Anneli Alderton, Gemma Adams, Annette Nicholls and Paula Clennell. Their bodies were dumped in isolated spots within a span of 10 days. The women worked in the red-light district of Ipswich. Two of the bodies were in a cruciform shape. Wright's DNA was found on three of the bodies while Fibers from his clothes, home, and car were found on all five women (McVeigh, 2008).
What gave a twist to Ipswich Prostitute Murders was that the scientific evidence found against forklift truck driver simply stated that he sexual intercourse with them? DNA evidence painted a compelling picture of his guilt. Wright had known to be fastidious about removing all traces of the murders. He cleaned his car regularly and often at odd hours. He was seen washing his car in the dark and paying special attention to the wheel arches. The black nylon fiber in Nicol's hair matched to the passenger side Wright's Ford Mondeo car (McVeigh, 2008).
Bodies of five women had been discovered as of December 12th, 2006. Each body was found naked and dumped in nearby woodlands or small bodies. Each of those women was aged between 19 and 29 and worked as prostitutes. The press has called the killer as "Ipswich Ripper," linking the murders to Jack the Ripper's crimes. It is still a pure coincidence that the two of the Ipswich victims had their last names comparable to that of the first Ripper victim. Moreover, the modus operandi of the killer in Ipswich Prostitute Murders was quite different from that of the original Ripper, who slashed and mutilated the female bodies. However, some very general parallels that can be drawn between the two cases. For examples, the victims in both cases are prostitutes. This could be because prostitutes are easily approachable and can willingly follow strangers to secretive places so as to have anonymous sex, and thus this makes them an easy target. Bothe murderers seem to be in a kind of frenzied state (Ryder, 2013).
DNA has become the gold standard in the validity of forensic testimony. The routine admission of nonDNA expert testimony may be erroneous in many criminal cases. The traditional types of forensic evidence that have long been accepted and are considered reliable are looked upon with doubt (Shelton, 2010). The psychologists look at the murderers as a hatred of women that is often caused because of having sexual difficulties with them.
Tania Nicol, the youngest of the victims. Who was aged 19 went missing first. She was found five and a half weeks close to an area called “Copdock Mill" and Belstead Brook. Her body was stuck in debris and as her body was found near water, it could not be ruled out that the cause of death was drowning.
Gemma Adams was the next to go missing and she was missed for two and a half weeks. Her body was found near the same brook as Nicol. She was asphyxiated and drowning could not be ruled out, just like Nicol. The body of Anneli Alderton, was discovered in a cruciform shape. Her arms were outstretched. She had gone missing after Gemma Adams body was found. Alderton had been asphyxiated and she was probably murdered elsewhere and then placed at the isolated spot.
Annette Nicholls, the next victim, was found with her outstretched arms, just off Old Felixstowe Road. She had been dead and remained in the position for at least four to five days. The naked body of Paula Clennell was spotted just off the Old Felixstowe Road by a pedestrian. The reason of death in this case was compression of the neck. By now, the police were wondering if the murders could be connected or was the work of someone, either on his own or with the help of another (Ipswich prostitute murders: The victims, 2008).
Graham Ritchie was an internationally renowned forensic dentist who assisted the identification of victims in forensic cases that involved murders, natural disasters and air crashes. He worked on the high-profile case of the Ipswich prostitute murders. He confirmed the identities of the five women who were murdered in Ipswich based on the dental records. Forensic dentistry has been the most successful method used for the identification of victims (O’Brien, 2014).
Steven Gerald James Wright
The serial murderer was born in the Norfolk village in 1958. Wright's parents divorced during the 1960s and Wright lived with his father. He joined the Merchant Navy and married. However, the couple separated in 1987. Wright worked as a steward, barman, lorry driver and was a fork-lift truck driver at the time of his arrest. Lindi St Clair, a former prostitute, claimed to have been attacked by Steve Wright. He also exhibited gambling and drinking behavior and had incurred large debts largely because of gambling. He was sued to visiting prostitutes on many occasions.
Wright's motivations behind the murders have never been known. He simply answered in no comment to every question he was asked. When the bodies getting discovered and recovered, the coverage was confined to the local media. However, the story got a major exposure on a national and international level soon. Interviews with Stephens were released by BBC and the Daily Mirror before his arrest. His pictures and images were used in many media articles. Linked to Jack the Ripper, many sections of media used the term "Suffolk Strangler”.
Forensic evidence against Steven Wright
The series of murders pointed towards a serial killer case. There was a killer who was murdering and then carrying the bodies to the isolated location and dumping them there. Three victims were murdered within a week. As the bodies were dumped near water bodies, there was little hope of finding any of his DNA. However, the last victim had been hurriedly left beside a busy road, and thus, this maximized the chances of DNA or any forensic evidence to be recovered by the police. When Steven Wright committed a petty theft in 2001 and had had DNA samples taken then, he would certainly have been more careful when murdering those women. In this case, it is not the DNA evidence that is consistent with his being the killer, but is consistent with his being the defendant.
Hundreds of items were detained in Police Storage and used in FSS mobile lab equipped with microscopes. Any item not excluded was submitted to a lab for supplementary examination. The forensic evidence proves that Steven Wright did murder these five women, or someone else placed all those evidence to set him up. Annette Nicholls hairs were found in Wright's car, but there was no other hair from any other victim found in the car. On the rear seat of his car, there are blood stains from Paula Clennell, on the rear seat of his car. Still, there are questions such as why there is no hair and why there is blood if her death was due to asphyxiation. Wright's DNA is found on the three other murder victims, despite the bodies remaining exposed to wind and rain for several days.
As a complete web of evidence, one finds a combination of different fibers that link all the bodies to Wright's car, his clothing, and home. Still, it is odd that there were no fingerprints from any of the victims in his car or his home. Another odd aspect is that there were fibers in the hair of the first two victims but no fibers on the headrests of his car. Blue polyester fibers found on Gemma Adams were found in the front of Wright's car (Cotterell, 2014).
A red acrylic fiber are found on the bodies of Alderton, Adams, and Clennell and the rear seat of Wright's car. Fibers found on Alderton connect her body to Wright's car, his home and tracksuit bottoms. Fibers found on Nicholls body matched with those on found on Wright's car, coat, gloves, tracksuit bottoms, coat and sofa at home. The forensic evidence is assumed to survive even after weeks of running water and exposure to weather as the fibers were buried in the roots of their hair and thus did not break away easily.
Fiber studies led to fiber collectives that were common to the women and Steve Wright. Although Stephens too had regular contact with the women, there was no physical evidence found to support this and which could link him to the murder of the women.
Investigations, Trial and court
Detective Chief Superintendent Stewart Gull carried out day-to-day investigations in the Ipswich Prostitute Murders case. The locations where the bodies were found were not the actual killing site, but the victims were all killed elsewhere and then later moved to the dumping sites. However, it is not clear if the women were murdered at different sites or the same location. The items such as handbag and jacket, women's clothing and accessories that were recovered were tested to establish if they had any connection to the murdered women.
More than 200 police officers worked on the investigation, and the detectives received about 500 calls every day. 10,000 hours of CCTV footage was coursed through. Two men, one 37-year-old man and the other a 48-year-old were arrested on suspicion of committing murder. The first suspect was released on police bail and was not officially named. He was Tom Stephens and fitted the psychological profile as well as was associated with all victims. However, the DNA found on the body of the victims does not match Stephens, his car, and house, and he is released on bail. The second suspect, Steve Wright carried no history of violent crime but had a previous conviction for theft. He had recently moved to red light area and gave a ‘no comment’ interview. He was later charged with the murder of all five women because of the forensic evidence.
The five women were found near Ipswich in December 2006 and were murdered. Wright allegedly searched the red light district to look for victims and chose women who were small and slightly built. CCTV footage shows Wright picking up Tania Nicol in his Ford Mondeo. During the Ipswich Crown Court trial in 2008, Wright confessed having sexual relation with four of the five victims but dismissed killing any them. He was told to spend the rest of his life in jail.
Wright appeared in Ipswich in the courts in 2006 and entered a plea of not guilty in 2007. The trial was to be heard at Ipswich Crown court in 2008. DNA evidence and fiber evidence linked the victims to Wright. The defense argued in favor of Wright that he, being a frequenter of prostitutes and that the forensic evidence was of little value. However, when Wright was stopped in the red light district in the early hours of the morning, he admitted that he was not aware that this was the red light district. Moreover, he had rented a flat in the red light area.
The sentencing jury in the trial was made of nine men and three women and in February 2008, they returned a United guilty verdict against Steve Wright for all the five murders. The sentencing carried an automatic term of life imprisonment. The family members of the victims expressed their feelings that Wright should have been given the death penalty. In 2008, it was published that he would appeal against his convictions, but in 2009, it was reported that he would not appeal anymore. However, he is still being questioned for other murders and disappearances such as the Suzy Lamplugh case. Cleveland Police does not rule out a link between the murder of Vicky Glass and Wright in 2000. The judge is reported to have told Wright that although those women were at a high risk because of drugs and prostitution but neither drugs nor prostitute killed them.
Conclusion Although forensic evidence has made major advances and it is increasingly used by prosecutors, defence, police juries and judges, there is a need to do further research as to how forensic evidence is used at various stages of a case and how it can impact the outcome. There are different kinds of forensic evidence and based on which, forensic specialists make different assessments. There are significant questions raised for that victim and survivors, where there is no forensic evidence. The forensic evidence carries important use in sexual assault trials and plays an important role at most times (Quadara, Fileborn, & Parkinson et al., 2013). However, at the same time, the certainty can be deceptive when the forensic evidence such as DNA can be misused and misapplied.
The current case of Ipswich Prostitute Murders shows that how the right team, collaborative efforts and use of forensic science can help nail the murderer or the offender. One can imagine what the outcome of the case would have been if there were no forensic evidence made use of.
Probably, even if Wright would have been arrested, because of a lack of evidence, would have been let out on bail. Alternatively, he could have got away with a punishment of lesser severity. In fact, Steve Wright was not even on the radar of the police. Although he was stopped and questioned, the police just looked at him as another routine enquiry subject. It was one week after the fifth body was found that he was handcuffed at his house. He seemed composed and denied killing the women. However, the mounting forensic evidence and persistent questioning was beginning to take the toil on him, and he started to crumble. Although he never gave his motive behind killing the women, there are speculations that the inner turmoil and frustrations make them see the prostitutes as an evil seductress. As a result, such men carry a confusing perspective of such women.
There is a growing sense of confidence in the community with the rise of DNA technology and other techniques of forensic evidence techniques. Now, one can keep the innocent free and lock up those who are guilty. The majority of the cases expect the use of scientific evidence in murder trials, which is considered to be much more dependable than the testament of police officers, eyewitnesses, or even the victims. However, studies show that the conviction rates in those cases that linked the suspect to the crime scene based on forensic evidence was only slightly higher. DNA has been found still in a very low percentage of cases as compared to biological evidence and latent fingerprints (O’Brien, 2010).
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