At first instance, the prosecution’s case rested on three main planks. Firstly, a number of sightings by local witnesses; secondly, forensic evidence tying him to the scene of the crime; and thirdly, three ‘confessions’ made by Stone to prison inmates whilst detained and awaiting trial. The first plank saw varying descriptions of the man they saw that afternoon. At 4:30 pm Isobel Cole saw a clean-shaven man of medium build wearing a dark blue baseball cap and carrying a hammer.
Half an hour later, Anthony Rayfield saw a beige car, parked with the boot open. The man standing next to the car was small, light-haired and wiry, aged 35 to 40, and appeared agitated. Nicola Burchill saw a beige car at 4:45 pm, its driver was round-faced with chubby cheeks.
Pauline Wilkinson saw two men near the murder scene; one had short blonde hair, while the other had darker hair. Josie herself recalled that the car was brown or red, clean and driven by a single man.
He was blonde, clean-shaven, about 25-years-old and the same height as her father, around 6 feet. Stone is 5’7” and podgy. He was also 37, his hair was brownish and receding, he had a light beard and he drove a white Toyota.
It is hard to know what to make of the various witness testimonies, save that there can be little reliability placed on them.
The second plank was based on forensic evidence found at the scene. The troubling fact was that there was very little of it. Four hairs were taken from beach shoes belonging to Josie; red fibres were found on or around Lin's body, and more red fibres were found on a pair of blue tights used to tie up one of the girls; a bootlace also used to tie the girls was found and there was a single blood-stained fingerprint on a lunchbox belonging to the girls. Tests showed that it was not Stone’s fingerprint. The fibres and hairs did not belong to Stone, nor to members of his family or his acquaintances.
The prosecution argued that the bootlace was a common component of the drug addict’s equipment. It is used as a tourniquet, tied around the addict’s arm to raise the veins for intravenous injection of heroin. It is pulled tight with the teeth, therefore there should have been saliva stains on it. There were saliva stains, however DNA testing showed that they were not Stone’s.
The final, and crucial, plank of the prosecution’s case rested on testimony by Stone’s associate, Lawrence Calder and Calder’s girlfriend, Sheree Batt, and three supposed confessions by Stone to various inmates in the institution where he was held on remand.
Calder, a regular drug user and habitual criminal, alleged that Stone had turned up at his house the day after the Russell murders at around 10:30 am. Stone was driving his white Toyota and had “spots of blood down the front (of his t-shirt) and a large area of blood on the groin”.
Unfortunately, Calder's testimony disintegrated under cross-examination. He was hopelessly confused about dates; he could not even remember which month it was that Stone came to their house. Batt then took the stand and contradicted her boyfriend’s testimony. She said that Stone had come to their house two or three weeks before 24 July 1996 (the murders were committed on 9 July 1996), and she only remembered a few spots of blood on his t-shirt. These were unconvincing and contradictory testimonies from two unreliable witnesses.
The three confessions were crucial. Mark Jennings had been jailed for life for the murder of a barman. Stone asked Jennings what he thought of the Russell murders and went on to suggest that Jennings should have killed the witnesses in the pub murder. He (Stone) would kill anyone, including women and children, if it would keep him out of jail.
However, this conversation was totally denied by Stone and it later came out in court that Jennings' sister had been paid £5000 by The Sun newspaper, with a promise of a further £10000 after the trial if Stone was found guilty.
Barry Thompson, serving two years for dishonesty and intimidating a witness, claimed that he and Stone had an argument, and Stone said “I made a mistake with her [Josie]. I won't make the same f***ing mistake with you”. Damian Daley’s evidence was the most damning. He claimed that he and Stone had communicated by speaking into a heating pipe connecting their two cells. Stone had apparently starting talking about “smashing heads, breaking eggs”, then he said, “I would have been OK if it hadn't been for that slag, if that slag hadn't picked me out”. He mentioned a dog, saying that the dog made more noise than the victims did.
Finally, Stone mentioned swimming costumes and that he had been aroused by sniffing the swimming costumes. Even with the lack of forensic evidence or credible witness testimony, the jury returned a guilty sentence, after fifteen hours of deliberation, by a 10-2 majority, on 23 October 1998. They had been swayed by the supposed confessions by Stone to his fellow prisoners, and the judge gave him three life sentences. However, a week after the verdict and sentence were handed down, in an interview with The Mirror newspaper, Thompson denied that his conversation with Stone took place, “None of what I said was true and I want to give a statement to his solicitor admitting I lied. Stone never said the words I attributed to him. I told the jury a pack of lies”. Solicitors for Stone immediately lodged an appeal on 6 November 1998. He was granted the right to appeal on 8 January 2001, and on 6 February 2001, Stone won his challenge at the Court of Appeal. The three Appeals judges allowed the appeal due to the unreliability of the key witness Thompson, who admitted to perjury in a court of law. If a retrial was not ordered, Stone would be set free. Stone’s counsel argued that a retrial would be inherently unfair due to the media publicity it received, “such has been the wealth of prejudicial material adverse to him (Stone) and inadmissible in any criminal trial”. The court quashed Stone’s conviction but ordered a retrial. On 5 September 2001, Stone’s retrial began at Nottingham Crown Court and on 4 October 2001, Stone was found guilty of the murders of Lin and Megan Russell, and the attempted murder of Josie Russell, again by a 10-2 majority.
At this trial, Thompson’s testimony was discredited and Jennings’ evidence was not even used. Counsel for the defendant attempted to bring up Daley’s heavy heroin use as proof of Daley’s unreliability. The jury however decided to accept Daley’s testimony and returned the guilty verdict. His three life sentences were re-imposed. The defence immediately appealed and in early January 2005 won the right to appeal.
However, on 19 January 2005, his appeal was dismissed. In April 2006, he mounted an unprecedented legal challenge to halt publication of a report into his medical history before the killings, claiming that it represented an infringement of his right to privacy under the European Convention of Human Rights. In England and Wales an independent inquiry is mandatory into any homicide by someone who has had recent psychiatric care.
On 21 December 2006, a High Court judge imposed the longest tariff he was legally entitled to impose on Stone’s life sentence, the maximum 25 years, before he would be eligible to be considered for parole. The Aftermath: The Stone case highlighted several deficiencies in the laws on mental health in the United Kingdom and prompted Parliamentary debate on the Mental Health Bill in 2007, that would amend the Mental Health Act of 1983. Stone had an untreatable personality disorder which had been diagnosed two years before the killings. However, he could not be legally detained because his illness was classified as untreatable. His terrible crime led to calls for powers to detain untreatable cases even if they had committed no crimes. This would provoke furious opposition from human rights and patients rights groups, who claimed that the Bill, if it became law, would allow the enforced detention of people who are mentally ill, even if they have not committed any crime, and also would mean that great numbers of mentally ill people who refuse medication could find themselves forcibly treated. The House of Lords in particular was in opposition to the Bill and it was of the opinion that it needed more safeguards for patients. Nonetheless, the Bill became law in 2007 and was implemented on 3 November 2008. Stone’s trials and convictions also raised serious questions about the appropriate weight that should be given to testimony from unreliable witnesses, as well as the wider question of whether juries were really the best equipped to consider matters of guilt and innocence in the midst of widespread and intense media coverage.