Jury take less than hour to find Alexander Palmer guilty of murdering Peter Wrighton in East Harling
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A jury has taken just 49 minutes to convict a former soldier of murdering an 83-year-old dog walker in woodland.
Father and grandfather Peter Wrighton, from Banham, died after a frenzied knife attack in East Harling, near Thetford, on August 5 last year.
Alexander Palmer, 24, of Freesia Way, Cringleford, has been on trial at Nottingham Crown Court after having denied former BT worker Mr Wrighton’s murder.
The jury of eight women and four men were sent out at just after 10.30am today and returned its unanimous guilty verdict at 11.30am.
Palmer, who was dressed in a dark suit shook his head as the verdict was announced.
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The judge, The Honourable Mr Justice Goose, adjourned the case until tomorrow but said life imprisonment was the sentence, by law, he must pass with the only issue the minimum term.
Palmer mouthed “I love you” to his family in the public gallery as he was led away.
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Yesterday both the prosecution and the defence made their closing addresses to the jury.
In his closing speech, prosecution barrister Stephen Spence said notes made by Palmer referring to voices in his head and his dislike of people, killing people, knives and stabbing and/or slashing throat as a method of killing were “prophetic” and were not a coincidence.
Reading out one extract from Palmer’s notes, Mr Spence said: “Murder they called it, as they wrote up my ascendance to greatness. My gift to you. They weren’t even there to witness my art in all its glory, only its aftermath. I wonder what people will say for years to come. How did he? Why did he?”
Mr Spence said these words were “a rather prophetic description of what happened to Peter Wrighton and the words of Alex Palmer.
“Whether he wants to call it “Alex” or “Little Alex” it’s Alex Palmer that sits and stayed sitting in the dock.”
The jury were read further extracts from Palmer’s notes by Mr Spence.
They referred to Palmer hating dog walkers as they were “muttering things” about him under their breath.
Mr Spence said: “We say there are no coincidences in this case.
“Having expressed desire to kill, Alex Palmer went to the Heath on that morning.
“He had in his car the knife that subsequently had gone missing and there out of the blue a man, a dog walker ended up losing his life; having his throat torn out, being stabbed through the eye to stop the staring.
“That’s no coincidence ladies and gentlemen.
“Alex Palmer went there that day to carry out his ambition, to carry out what he had written about, to carry out what he had spoken about.”
The jury also heard from David Spens QC, defence barrister for Palmer who had decided not to give evidence in the trial.
In his closing speech Mr Spens QC said because of what Palmer had said to mental health professionals the defendant “would appear to be a good candidate to be Mr Wrighton’s killer, I accept that.”
But he insisted the burden of proving the guilt of any defendant “lies with the prosecution from start to finish”.
He said: “The prosecution must make you sure of guilt beyond any reasonable doubt.”
He said suspicion alone was never enough to prove guilt.
Mr Spens QC said the jury has heard a lot of “very emotionally disturbing” evidence but he told them they should be “cool, calm and dispassionate”.
Referring to some of the notes made by Palmer he said they were a kind of “therapy” which got the thoughts out of his head and were not a “blueprint for action”.
Mr Spens QC said during police interviews Palmer was “forced” or “persuaded” into accepting he might have been on the west side of The Street - where Mr Wrighton had been killed - although he had not been.
He said if Palmer was the killer it would have been “deadly” for anyone to make such an admission.
He said at the heart of the case was pathological evidence in the case points to the killer being left-handed when his client was right-handed.
Quoting the pathologist’s evidence, Mr Spens QC, said: “The probability is that Mr Wrighton was attacked from behind with a sharp knife held in the attacker’s left hand”.
But the jury was told by the defence that Mr Palmer was right-handed and if the pathologist is right, as the defence contend, then Palmer could not have been the killer.
He said it was a point the jury should “brush under the carpet”.
The defence also insist that if Palmer had been the killer you would have expected to find a “far more substantial” evidence of DNA which linked him to the murder.
While there was DNA from Palmer found on the victim, and vice versa, Mr Spens QC said it was at the level that could be explained “innocently”.
He insisted Palmer and Mr Wrighton did not meet - and had never met - but could have crossed paths in the woods that day which could account for the indirect transfer of DNA.
Another significant factor raised by Mr Spens QC in closing was the fact that no DNA - “not one speck” of Mr Wrighton’s blood was found in Palmer’s car which you would have expected had he been the killer.
In addressing Palmer’s claim that he had lost the knife, which the prosecution allege was the murder weapon, Mr Spens QC said losing things and not remembering where they are happens to all of us.
He cited the case of former tennis player Boris Becker - an ex world number one and three times Wimbledon champion - who has lost five of his six Grand Slam trophies and has appeared for the public’s help in tracing them.
The tennis ace wants to sell them to pay off debts but cannot recollect where he left them.
The judge said he would adjourn sentence until 10.30am tomorrow.
He said life imprisonment was mandatory with the only issue to establish a minimum term before Palmer was eligible for parole.
He enquired as to whether if would be possible for Mr Wrighton’s widow to watch the sentencing hearing from a link at Norwich Crown Court as she had done in other parts of the trial.