Stephen Lawrence, murdered 18 years ago in Britain's most notorious racial killing. Today, two members of the gang who stabbed him to death were sentenced to life in prison.
Credit: Handout

Yesterday, 18 years after the crime was committed, two men were convicted of the murder of black teen-ager Stephen Lawrence. Today, Gary Dobson and David Norris, were sentenced to life imprisonment. Britain does not have the death penalty. Nor does life imprisonment mean life here.

Most life sentences stipulate a minimum amount of time to be served before a convicted murderer is eligible for parole. Because Dobson and Miller were teen-agers at the time of the murder, their minimum time in jail was set by Mr. Justice Treacy at 15 years and two months. Norris must serve 14 years and three months.

As I reported yesterday this was an historic case and a landmark in Britain's evolution into a multi-ethnic society. But it was also a landmark in legal history. The key to the successful prosecution of Stephen's killers was the end of "double jeopardy," the 800 year-old law that prevents people from being tried for the same case twice.

The initial trial of the two men more than 15 years ago collapsed. The law on double jeopardy was changed specifically in 2003 to make it possible to bring Lawrence's murderers to trial again, should "new and compelling evidence," be discovered. That evidence turned up when new forensic technology was applied to clothes taken from the murderers at the time of the crime.

Interesting essay on the subject of double jeopardy and Stephen Lawrence is here.

This does not mark the end of the case. Dobson and Norris were just part of a gang of youths who killed Stephen. The judge acknowledged it is not known who among the group wielded the knife that killed the 18-year old.

Speaking to the pair, Treacy said, "The evidence does not prove you had the knife, but the holder had it with your approval," The judge added, "It does not matter the knife was not in your hands. You - Dobson - repeatedly lied as part of group loyalty."

Prosecutors and Lawrence's family have expressed the hope that Dobson or Norris will finally tell the truth about who else was there and what exactly happened that night in 1993, in order to make a favorable impression when they come up for parole sometime late in the next decade.  That would lead to others being prosecuted for Stephen's murder in the future.

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