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Page last updated at 08:13 GMT, Friday, 6 June 2008 09:13 UK

Fairness of US murder trial questioned

By Rajesh Mirchandani
BBC News, Massachusetts

British man Neil Entwistle is about to go on trial in the US accused of murdering his wife and baby daughter, but some question whether the media speculation around the case has made a fair trial impossible.

Neil Entwistle, his wife Rachel and daughter Lillian Rose
The defence say seeking sex outside marriage is not a motive for murder

In January 2006, the Entwistles appeared to be a happy family with a bright future.

They had just rented a large, attractive home in the quiet hamlet of Hopkinton, a suburb of Boston. It was near Rachel Entwistle's parents.

Neil Entwistle was looking for an IT job and on their own website they called themselves "the happy couple".

But prosecutors claim this outward image of suburban bliss hid a darker side to Neil Entwistle.

Sex websites

Court papers, made available by the prosecution, claim a police examination of Mr Entwistle's computer revealed that, in the days before the killings, he had searched online for ways to commit suicide and "how to kill with a knife".

It is claimed the computer examination also revealed that during the same time he contacted several sex websites, looking for casual partners.

And it is claimed Mr Entwistle corresponded with another person via a site claiming to be "the world's largest sex and swingers community".

A television reporter holding a Boston Herald newspaper
Local newspapers have carried extensive coverage of the case

Mr Entwistle is said to have posted on the site that he was in a "current relationship but looking for a bit more fun in the bedroom".

Court papers released previously, and widely reported, suggest Mr Entwistle's interest in sex with strangers continued when he flew to the UK, that he had a page from a British tabloid containing dozens of numbers for escort agencies.

It is also claimed he was trying to track down an old girlfriend.

In addition, prosecutors say, police investigations revealed Neil Entwistle had run up debts of tens of thousands of dollars and that, instead of returning to the US for the funerals of his wife and nine-month-old daughter, he sent a fax to the Medical Examiner's Office in Boston relinquishing all responsibility for burial arrangements.

The defence has tried to have much of this evidence ruled inadmissible: seeking partners outside marriage, it claims, may show no more than a wish to spice up one's sex life.

I think he's guilty and I'm unlikely to change my opinion
Potential juror, before trial

Mainly, though, the defence has kept quiet about its case.

But court papers suggest Mr Entwistle told police he had come home after running an errand to find his wife and daughter shot dead; that rather than call for help, he covered their bodies with bed clothes, fetched a knife to kill himself, but could not go through with it.

Later that same day Mr Entwistle drove to Boston's Logan International Airport, left his car there, bought a one-way ticket and, early the next morning, flew to London.

He had no luggage.

Neil Entwistle went to his parents' home in Worksop, Nottinghamshire. From there he spoke to American police. At this point officers said he was a "person of interest" but not a suspect.

'Infected'

Prosecutors say he told friends and police two different versions of what happened after he said he discovered the bodies.

Television crews
The Entwistle trial is being closely followed by the media

After three weeks in the UK, during which the case attracted intense media interest, Neil Entwistle was arrested, sent back to the US and charged with the two murders and related firearms offences. He denies the charges.

We know so much already because American law allows details of a trial to be reported before it starts.

It is very different from British law, where the Contempt of Court Act prevents publication or broadcasting of any but the barest facts after an arrest is made.

In this case, those differences have led to questions in the British press about whether Neil Entwistle will get a fair trial.

It is a claim made by his lawyer Elliot Weinstein too. He has repeatedly and publicly made the point that this trial can never be fair because there has been so much pre-publicity and it takes place close to where the murders happened.

He has failed in his attempts to have the trial moved further away, and has said he believes the juror pool is "impermissibly infected".

Even the judge Diane Kottmyer has acknowledged difficulties in finding an objective panel of 16 (12 jurors and four alternates).

She talked of how they had "exhausted" the juror pool: more than 200 people have taken part.

'Fry him'

Several were excused from service because they admitted they had already formed opinions about the case.

It has led to some drama even before the trial's opening statements.

The Entwistle house in Boston
Rachel Entwistle and her daughter were found dead at their Boston home

In front of Neil Entwistle himself, one man said: "I think he's guilty and I'm unlikely to change my opinion."

Another man, of the same view, said, as the accused sat less than 20ft (7m) away: "God help me if I'm wrong, God help him if I'm right."

And outside court a woman repeated to reporters what she'd told the judge: that she had heard other potential jurors say "fry him".

It has been claimed in both British and American newspapers that the defence's complaints about fairness could be grounds for a later appeal.

First, of course, the trial must actually take place.


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