Headless body murder trial jurors told they can consider manslaughter charge

Jemma Mitchell, 38, is accused of murdering 67-year-old Mee Kuen Chong at her home in Wembley, north London, in June last year.

21 October 2022

Jurors have been told they can consider if a woman cut off her vulnerable friend’s head and disposed of the body, but had not meant to kill her.

Jemma Mitchell, 38, is accused of murdering 67-year-old Mee Kuen Chong at her home in Wembley, north London, before wheeling her body away in a large suitcase on June 11 last year.

Fifteen days later, Mitchell allegedly dumped Ms Chong’s headless corpse more than 200 miles away in woodland near Salcombe, Devon.

Mee Kuen Chong court case
A screengrab taken from CCTV of Jemma Mitchell on Chaplin Road in Wembley dragging a blue suitcase on June 11 2021 (Met Police/PA)

Prosecutors allege Mitchell was motivated by money and had faked devout Christian Ms Chong’s will to pay for repairs to her dilapidated home in Willesden, north-west London.

Mitchell has denied murdering Ms Chong, who was known as Deborah, but declined to give evidence in her defence.

On Friday, Judge Richard Marks told jurors they could consider a lesser charge of manslaughter.

He said: “It is not the case for either the prosecution or the defence that the defendant is guilty of manslaughter as opposed to murder.

“The prosecution say this is a case of premeditated murder and that is the reason why the defendant took the suitcase with her to the house on June 11 – ie for the purpose of removing the body.

Mee Kuen Chong court case
A screengrab taken from CCTV of Mitchell driving a hire car on Bennett Road in Salcombe, Devon, on June 26 2021, where Ms Chong’s body was found (Met Police/PA)

“The defence on the other hand say that the prosecution have failed to prove that Deborah Chong was unlawfully killed and then, even if you conclude that she was, they have failed to prove that she was unlawfully killed by the defendant.”

The judge raised the evidence of the pathologist Dr Deborah Cook and what the jury could conclude from possible explanations for Ms Chong’s head fracture.

The pathologist had said Ms Chong’s head injury could have been caused by a blow with a weapon or a violent push.

In either event, the jury could consider Mitchell guilty of manslaughter if she killed Ms Chong but did not intend to cause her really serious harm.

The judge added: “That would be the case even if she subsequently cut off Deborah Chong’s head and then disposed of the body.”

He told jurors it was a circumstantial case with no witnesses to Ms Chong’s death.

Mee Kuen Chong
Mitchell denies murdering Mee Kuen Chong, pictured, who was known as Deborah (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Circumstantial evidence could be “powerful” but needed to be examined with care, and speculation played no part in the process, he said.

Jurors could consider that Mitchell told various lies but they should not assume they meant she “must be guilty”, the judge said.

Examples allegedly included providing a false name and address to a taxi firm and lying about how she injured her finger on June 11 last year.

The judge said defendants sometimes told lies out of “panic or fear or because they think that their genuine explanation may not be believed”.

On Mitchell’s failure to go into the witness box, Judge Marks said: “You must not jump to the conclusion that her silence proved the case against her. It does not.”

But he added: “It is open to you to conclude that the reason why the defendant remained silent is that in truth that she had no answer to the prosecution case or none that she thought would stand up in cross-examination.”

The trial at the Old Bailey was adjourned until Monday.

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