Beyond All Reasonable Doubt by Malin Persson Giolito (Translated by Rachel Wilson Broyles) - Teenage Katrin Bjork, her parents away, invites her boyfriend for supper. He arrives interested only in sex. The 15 year old Katrin thinks sex followed by the meal. And then he turns brutal and she is dead.
Over a decade later Sophie Weber’s former law professor, Hans Segerstad, pushes her to take up the appeal of Stig Ahlin who was convicted of killing Katrin. He believes Ahlin is innocent. She is reluctant. It is not the crime. She has dealt with vicious crimes. Her claim she is not ready to take on another pro bono case is insincere. Her real hesitation is that she does not want to lose and such appeals absorb great amounts of time and are rarely successful. Yet the appeal will draw the same intense attention as the trial. Few defence counsel can resist the lure of a big case. When she agrees to look at the file she has actually, though not consciously, made the decision to represent Professor Death.
The story shifts back and forth between the original investigation by Bertil Lundberg and Weber working on the appeal.
The initial investigation struggled to find a suspect. There was no one in Katrin’s life who appeared to be a killer. And then, in the nursing home where Katrin worked part-time, an elderly woman with a wandering memory tells investigators that her son was kissing Katrin. It is a slender clue but it leads the police to look at Ahlin.
He is a very successful 35 year old doctor. At the same time he is arrogant and demanding and expectant that his wishes, demands, will be satisfied.
Women seek him out sexually. He is not surprised when Katrin wants him. Age is of no concern. He uses her for his own satisfaction.
The investigation examines his personal life and concerns over his relationship with his four year old daughter, Ida. Divorced from her mother he has never been much of a father.
Ahlin maintains he only had a sexual relationship with Katrin and that he never killed her. He protests he never did anything improper with his daughter. Weber is intrigued by the prospect Ahlin is innocent. In an unusual act of legal self-justification she says she will represent him as long as she does not find evidence that he is guilty. She knows it is contrary to legal ethics to so restrict her representation but that is her condition. Her requirement places an unnecessary pressure upon her. It is difficult to know if someone is innocent. Wrongful conviction does not mean innocence.
Weber commences her review of the case. While the circumstantial evidence should not have been enough to convict Ahlin merely pointing out weaknesses in the evidence will never win an appeal. If not Ahlin than who killed Katrin?
Weber focuses on the teeth marks on Katrin’s body. Forensic analysis identifies them as having been made by Ahlin. Can that analysis be challenged? I wondered at the reliability of an analysis of teeth marks. What analysis had police, prosecutors and experts done of the teeth marks?
She engages in the tedious but crucial process of wading through the mass of documents which are ill organized. Average lawyers skim files for the obviously important documents. It is easy to miss a crucial document in a cursory review.
Weber finds a document that gives her the means to challenge the pivotal evidence. In my next post I will discuss the difficulty of using evidence discovered by the defence after trial.
While the evidence she finds and the new analysis done is strong I thought she still needed a viable potential alternative killer.
It means exploring Katrin’s life. The image at trial was of a wonderful 15 year old. Weber rightly questions the one dimensional view. At that time no one wanted to re-victimize the victim. Laudable in principle avoiding a careful examination of the life of the victim can produce a wrongful conviction as prosecutors and police tunnel in on the accused they believe committed the crime.
Weber’s detailed, sometimes plodding, review of the details provides a startling simple explanation I had not seen, though all the information needed was provided the reader.
It was interesting to read how a Swedish murder appeal is handled. Since the author was a practising lawyer in Sweden I expect she got the procedure correct. Unlike Canada and the U.S. there was no oral argument. It was a paper appeal.
Beyond All Reasonable Doubt is well written and well translated. Giolito captures the grind of reviewing what seem like endless pages of trial evidence and exhibits for an appeal argument.
Readers seeking a resolution beyond all reasonable doubt will be disappointed. Readers who appreciate complex characters and that ambiguity exists in crime will relish preparing the appeal with Sophie Weber. The ending will leave you in a thoughtful mood. I want to read more by Ms. Giolito.