First Person Convicted of Murder Based on DNA Evidence


On 21 November 1983, a 15-year-old girl named Lynda Mann left her home in Narborough, Leicestershire, England, to visit a friend’s house and never returned. The next morning, Lynda was found raped and strangled on a deserted footpath. Using forensic science techniques available at the time, police linked a semen sample taken from her body to a person with type A blood and an enzyme profile that matched only 10 percent of males. With no other leads or evidence at the time, the case was left open.

Just under three years later, on 31 July 1986, another 15-year-old girl named Dawn Ashworth, from Enderby, also in Leicestershire, took a shortcut on her route home. Two days later, her body was found in a wooded area near Ten Pound Lane. She had been beaten, raped, and strangled to death. The semen samples taken revealed that the perpetrator had the same blood type as Lynda Mann’s killer.

The prime suspect was Richard Buckland, a local 17-year-old who seemed to have knowledge of Ashworth’s body. Under interrogation, Buckland admitted to Dawn Ashworth’s murder, but said he didn’t kill Lynda Mann.

In 1986, Alec Jeffreys of the University of Leicester had recently developed DNA profiling along with Peter Gill and Dave Werrett of the Forensic Science Service (FSS). Using this technique, Jeffreys compared samples from both murders against a blood sample from Buckland, which conclusively proved that both girls were killed by the same man, but not Buckland. As a result, Richard Buckland became the first person to have his innocence established by DNA fingerprinting. There is little doubt that without the DNA evidence Buckland would have been convicted of the murder of Dawn Ashworth.

The Leicestershire Constabulary then conducted an investigation, gathering blood or saliva samples from 5,000 local men. This took six months and no matches were found. Later, a man named Ian Kelly was heard bragging to his friends that he had obtained £200 for giving a sample while masquerading as his friend Colin Pitchfork, a local baker. On 19 September 1987, Pitchfork was arrested at his home in the neighboring village of Littlethorpe. His recorded fingerprint DNA sample matched the killer.

Colin Pitchfork admitted to the two murders in addition to another incident of sexual assault. He is the first criminal convicted of murder based on DNA fingerprinting evidence and the first to be caught as a result of mass DNA screening.

On 14 May 2009, Pitchfork’s legal appeal was heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. He won a two-year reduction in his original sentence of a minimum 30 years’ imprisonment. As a consequence, Pitchfork will now be eligible for release in 2016. The Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge stated, however, that “he cannot be released unless and until the safety of the public is assured.” For a child murderer, this should be never.

Self-checkout Lanes

I hate self-serve grocery lanes, and am encouraged to read recently that they might be diminishing in number. My reasons for hating them are manifold, but are primarily based on the realization that they replace human workers. As a life-long supporter of labor and the labor movement, I cannot in good conscience use any system that takes away jobs from real human beings.

I am not technology averse, but I refuse to be a party to displacing real people from real jobs that they may need in these hard economic times. If I can help give someone a job, while it costs me nothing whatsoever to do so, I’ll do it. Even if it does cost me, I’ll still do it.

I also am troubled by the fact that the grocery stores that use these types of checkout lanes expect me to be an unpaid employee of the store for the time I spend completing the transaction. They expect me to scan, bag, pay for and carry out the groceries, all tasks for which I am unpaid, and receive no discount in my final bill for doing, thus maximizing the grocery store profit margins. I never wanted to work in a grocery store when I was in the work force, so why would I want to be an unpaid employee now that I’m retired?

And apparently, I’m not alone in my feelings about self-checkout lanes. Market studies cited by the Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute found only 16 percent of supermarket transactions in 2010 were done at self-checkout lanes in stores that provided the option. That’s down from a high of 22 percent three years ago.
Overall, people reported being much more satisfied with their supermarket experience when they used traditional cashier-staffed lanes.

Supermarket chains started introducing self-serve lanes about 10 years ago, touting them as an easy way for shoppers to scan their own items’ bar codes, pay, bag their bounty and head out on their way. Retailers also anticipated a labor savings, potentially reducing the number of cashier shifts as they encouraged shoppers to do it themselves.

Below is a video of a comedy skit by Patton Oswalt that hits some of the points on this issue.