Murderer who claimed judge ‘linked him to Paris terrorist’ fails in ‘unfair trial’ appeal

A man found guilty of murdering his ex-partner who claimed that the trial judge showed a “lack of impartiality” by using the word “assassin” in giving an example of a deliberate intention to kill has failed in an appeal against his conviction.

Mohammed Abboud, 57, who was sentenced to life imprisonment with a punishment part of 20 years after being convicted of the murder of 27-year-old Agnieszka Szefler, also argued that his trial was “unfair” because the judge used the terrorist attacks in Paris to illustrate his example.

However, the Criminal Appeal Court rejected the appeal against conviction and sentence as “fanciful”.

The Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, sitting with Lord Menzies and Lady Clark of Calton, heard that the appellant was found guilty following a seven-day trial at the High Court in Edinburgh in December 2015.

At the sentencing diet in January the trial judge Lord Uist described the killing at Abboud’s home in Bridge of Earn as a “savage and brutal murder” of a woman who was “unable to defend herself,” adding that he showed her “no mercy”.

In his directions to the jury the trial judge explained that an example of a deliberate intention to kill was “the hired assassin who goes with a loaded shotgun and deliberately shoots at someone to kill them”.

He added that the terrorists in Paris who had shot people in the streets and in restaurants, the suspected ringleader of which was called Abdelhamid Abaaoud, clearly had a “deliberate intention to kill”.

The grounds of appeal stated that the word “assassin” originally referred to a member of an 11th century Islamic sect, known for murdering political and religious adversaries.

The appellant, a bearded man of Iraqi extraction, argued that the use of the word “assassin” and the similarity in name with the suspected ringleader in the terrorist attacks which took place only a few weeks earlier provided a “linking” which was likely to remind the jury of his racial background in a “potentially negative way”.

It was submitted that it was unnecessary for the judge to give any kind of example and that notwithstanding that there was a “strong evidential case” against the appellant, the examples given by the trial judge were suggestive of “bias”.

The appeal judges observed that the trial judge was explaining to the jury the difference between murder arising from a wickedly deliberate intention to kill and murder arising from wicked recklessness and that it was the one instance of the judge using an example to illustrate his meaning.

But they added that the circumstances were “far removed” from the actual circumstances of the case.

Delivering the opinion of the court, the Lord Justice Clerk said: “There is nothing wrong with a trial judge using examples to illustrate his directions, and whether to do so, or the extent to do so, is a matter for the trial judge.

“This case was one of a domestic killing in rural Perthshire. It involved the murder by stabbing of the former domestic partner of the appellant.

“In our view it cannot be said that the words used by the trial judge were such as would be likely to create in the minds of reasonable individuals the suspicion that the trial judge might not be impartial.

“The word assassin no doubt had its origins in the alleged hashish-taking activities of an 11th century Middle Eastern sect, but its modern usage, and the resonance it would be likely to have for the jury, relates to a hired killer, which was clearly the context in which the trial judge was using it.

“The events in Paris were simply a recent, well-known example of circumstances showing a clear intention to kill, and thus a suitable example for illustrative purposes.”

Lady Dorrian added: “The trial judge gave the jury very clear directions against the danger of speculation, warned them that their verdict required to be based on the evidence only, and gave them an entirely balanced charge, in respect of which there is no other complaint made.

“The trial judge firmly advised the jury that the assessment of the evidence, and the drawing of inferences therefrom was entirely for them; that they were not allowed to speculate; that it was no part of his function to suggest that the jury should take any particular view of the evidence; and that it was accordingly their recollection, not his or anyone else’s, which must prevail.

“There is no other aspect of the charge which is complained of, and in our view the argument that the jury might have been influenced in the way suggested is fanciful.”

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