On 30 June 2003, a 14-year-old girl was found stabbed to death on a woodland path in the town of Dalkeith in Midlothian, Scotland. Found naked with multiple stab wounds it was a shocking murder in a small town, hitting the national headlines and gaining in media attention after her 15-year-old boyfriend was arrested and charged with her murder 10 months later. What followed was the longest murder trial for a single defendant in Scottish legal history and Luke Mitchell, then 16-years-old, was convicted based on a collection of circumstantial evidence that when taken as a whole, built a compelling case against this teenager for a brutal murder.
When Jodi Jones left her home around 5pm on the evening of 30 June 2003, her mother had no reason to think that was the last time she would see her daughter alive. She was going out to meet her boyfriend, Luke Mitchell, the teenager told her and she would be back for her 10 pm curfew. When she failed to return, her family launched a search in the local area, reaching out to Luke Mitchell who told them he had not seen Jodi that evening despite her leaving her home to meet him.
Luke Mitchell and Jodi Jones were students at St. David’s High School in Dalkeith. They had begun a romantic relationship together earlier that year and the pair enjoyed the same music and style of clothing and lived close to each other spending their evenings and weekends together.
Roan’s Dyke Path is shortcut route through woodland on the outskirts of Dalkeith that links the area of Easthouses where Jodi lived with her mother, stepfather and sister, and Newbattle where Luke lived with his mother and his brother. It took around 15 minutes to walk the length of this path from one house to the other. This path would become central to the murder trial of Luke Mitchell with a 30 ft section being recreated during the trial to demonstrate to jurors the exact circumstances of Jodi’s death and how her body was found and a site-visit to the area by the entire jury to see the area for themselves.
On the night Jodi Jones went missing, her family concentrated their search in the area of Roan’s Dyke Path, believing this to be the route she took when she left her house. The path is predominantly bordered by a stone wall which is falling apart in places, leaving large gaps within the stonework providing access to further areas of woodland. Jodi’s body was found behind this wall almost 13 meters away from a large ‘V’ shaped gap regularly used to access the woodland on the other side. Foliage and trees obscured the view of the area Jodi’s body was found in, meaning her body could only be seen from certain positions.
She was found naked with her hands tied behind her back using her own trousers, she did not appear to have been sexually assaulted and there were no signs of a struggle other than her items of clothing lying around her. She had cuts to her throat, her cheek, her chest, around her eyes and her stomach, some of which it was later determined had been inflicted post-mortem. It was the cut to her neck which took her life, a very deep wound which severed her jugular vein cutting through her carotid artery causing her death within minutes.
It was Luke Mitchell out of the members of the search party that night that went through that gap in the wall next to where Jodi’s body lay. It was inferred by the prosecution that he knew exactly where her body was, made no effort to search any other areas and knew once he went through the space in the wall which direction to go in order to find her body. Mitchell told police he went past the gap in the wall but his dog alerted him to something behind the wall which was why he went back. An explanation the prosecution didn’t believe.
After a number of false starts, in November 2004, Luke Mitchell’s trial started at the High Court in Edinburgh. Along with murder Mitchell was also charged with the supply of controlled drugs and the possession of knives.
The trial lasted a total 42 days where the jury heard that no forensic evidence was found linking Luke Mitchell to the murder of Jodi Jones. There were no DNA, hairs or fibers found at the murder scene belonging to Mitchell, leaving the prosecution’s case against him based entirely on circumstantial evidence.
Luke Mitchell was known to regularly carry a knife on his person, however, that knife and a jacket he was most likely wearing on the day of the murder were both missing and their disappearance remains unexplained. Bizarrely, on a search of Luke Mitchell’s bedroom, 20 bottles of his own urine were found under his bed, leading the prosecution to suggest all was not right with this young man. His fondness of black clothing, Marilyn Manson and interest in satanism were also highlighted, with the prosecution using such facts to suggest there was a dark side to his personality.
Luke Mitchell did not give evidence in his own trial but statements put forward by his defense team were that he was at home on that evening and then went out to meet Jodi after she didn’t arrive at his house. He waited at their usual meeting point, wandering around the area and looking for her for over 45 minutes before he contacted a friend and arranged to meet him. However, his claims of being at home alone at the time of Jodi’s murder were not supported by the testimony of his brother, Shane Mitchell. Furthermore, a number of witnesses reported seeing a male and female together that evening, witnesses who then picked out Luke Mitchell’s photograph when asked to identify the boy that they saw. Further sightings of a teen matching Luke Mitchell’s description near the woodland path just after the murder is thought to have taken place were reported, all suggesting Luke was not where he said he was at the time his girlfriend was murdered.
Luke Mitchell was found guilty of murder on 21 January 2005 and sentenced on 11 February to life in prison to serve a minimum sentence of 20 years behind bars.
“It was a truly evil murder and one of the most appalling crimes that any of us can remember. You must rightly be regarded as wicked – you subjected Jodi to a horrible death and one can only hope mercifully quick.”
In the years since his imprisonment Luke Mitchell has continued to protest his innocence, claiming it was an unknown individual who carried out this murder, however, each one of his appeals against his conviction have been refused and he remains behind bars. In 2013, he became the first convicted British prisoner to post a video to YouTube showing him undergoing a lie detector test, hoping this would prove he was not the killer of Jodi Jones, despite polygraph tests being inadmissible within Scottish courts. To date, these actions have not resulted in any further movement towards his freedom.
The murder of Jodi Jones was not only a horrific act of violence but one carried out by a 15-year-old boy against a girl of his own age. The nation was shocked and horrified at how an innocent romance between two teens could turn to murder. At the time of his conviction, the judge at his trial, Lord Nimmo Smith, told Mitchell, “It lies beyond any skill of mind to look into the black depths of your mind.” Whether Luke Mitchell will ever be successful in his future appeals is unknown, but for now he is a 29-year-old man who remains behind bars, labelled as a disturbed individual capable of violence and murder.