City woman key witness if U.K. judge allows appeal

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Jeremy Bamber was convicted in 1986 of killing five members of his family -- one of the most sensational British murder trials in decades.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/04/2012 (3874 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Jeremy Bamber was convicted in 1986 of killing five members of his family — one of the most sensational British murder trials in decades.

The 52-year-old Bamber has alleged all along he was the victim of a wrongful conviction, and he’ll find out next week if the British courts will grant him leave to appeal.

If the appeal goes ahead, a key witness could again be his former girlfriend, Julie Mugford — now Julie Smerchanski, a Winnipeg wife and mother, and director of assessment and instructional support services for the Winnipeg School Division.

“Yes, absolutely,” he will call Smerchanski to testify should his client have his appeal heard, Bamber’s lawyer, Simon McKay, said Wednesday from Leeds.

“She was a key witness,” McKay said, though he emphasized, “No one considered that her evidence alone convicted Bamber.”

Smerchanski has not responded to interview requests from the Free Press.

Jeremy Bamber’s case has resulted in several books and numerous television documentaries.

Bamber was adopted as a child into a relatively wealthy English farm family. In 1985, five members of his family were found shot to death, a rifle lying across the body of Bamber’s non-biological adopted sister.

The victims included Bamber’s adoptive parents, and his sister’s two young children.

For weeks, police believed the sister suffered from mental illness and killed the four others before taking her own life.

But they eventually charged Bamber with all five slayings, and he was convicted and sentenced to life without parole.

McKay said the Bamber trial has been so sensational in the United Kingdom for so many years, that a mythology has developed around it.

The original trial created a media frenzy in Britain, complete with some media outlets offering tens of thousands of pounds for exclusive interviews.

A previous appeal bid failed in 2002, but that attempt to get a new trial was based entirely on DNA evidence, said McKay, who took up Bamber’s case last year. McKay has had several highly publicized murder convictions overturned, and is representing several clients victimized in the ongoing hacked telephone and email scandal in Britain.

McKay said he will allege in court the police mishandled the original murder investigation, and that some crucial evidence was contaminated.

Bamber’s legal team has pathologists and forensic experts who will testify the evidence clearly points to the sister as the killer, said McKay.

He said the charges against Bamber were laid after Mugford came forward and told police about statements he had allegedly made to her, McKay said.

“It wasn’t until the 2002 appeal that it was learned she had moved to Canada,” McKay said. “I know journalists have come to Canada and tried to talk to her.”

Extensive online coverage of the Bamber case indicates Mugford played a crucial role in the 1986 trial, and she has consistently declined to talk to the media.

McKay said he believes he can compel Smerchanski to testify at an appeal.

“We’re fairly certain we can issue a subpoena upon her,” and that extradition treaties would force her to testify, he said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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