Schoolgirl's killer obsessed with knives

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The Independent Online
A 20-year-old man was jailed for life yesterday for the murder of schoolgirl Naomi Smith.

The jury at Birmingham Crown Court took three and three-quarter hours to find Edwin Hopkins guilty of cutting Naomi's throat, sexually assaulting her and then leaving her half-naked in a playground close to her home in the Warwickshire village of Ansley Common, near Nuneaton.

Naomi's body was discovered by her father and her best friend, Emma Jones, on 14 September 1995, two hours after she had left the family home to post a letter for her mother.

Hopkins' claimed he did not see Naomi on the night of the murder, but scientific evidence convinced the jury that he was the only one who could have inflicted her injuries.

Summing up for the prosecution, Colman Treacy said that the DNA found in saliva on Naomi's body matched Hopkins'- a 36 million to 1 chance. "What we have here in the case of Mr Hopkins is a man whose DNA is very, very rare indeed."

Mr Treacy went on to say that a bite mark found on the dead girl's breast had been matched with Hopkins' unusual teeth.

The fact that Hopkins had not been able to stick to the same story about the night of the killing, or about how he heard news of Naomi's death, was also incriminating, he said.

Hopkins originally told police he had heard about the killing from a woman but later claimed he had been told by a man walking a dog.

During the trial, the jury heard emotive testimony from Hopkins' 23-year- old sister, Julie, who broke down in tears while giving evidence, explaining that she felt she had to testify against her brother, in spite of their close relationship, because of the brutality of the crime.

Mr Treacy reminded the jury that Hopkins' sister had been worried when he failed to return from a short trip to the off-licence on the night of Naomi's death. "She remembers false excuses put forward about getting milk and a man stopping him and complaining that he did not have any lights," he said.

The court was also told that although no murder weapon has ever been identified, Hopkins had an obsession with knives and kept machetes and Rambo -style knives hanging on his bedroom walls.

Under cross-examination, Hopkins said his sharp knives were used in his work as a paint sprayer.

Summing up for the defence, James Hunt QC warned the jury that they should not allow expert opinion to convict Hopkins. He said that DNA expert Michael Barber had made a mistake in his calculations. "You don't actually have trial by expert in this country and you don't have trial by mathematics though this is what this has become," he said.

Speaking at a press conference after the verdict, Naomi's mother, Catherine Smith, called for a return to capital punishment. "Naomi was our only daughter," she said.

"She died a child at the hands of Hopkins who is possessed by evil. Before she died her body was mutilated in a grotesque manner. Edwin Hopkins is alive and he has a future. We do not call this justice. We are advocates of capital punishment. We were before Naomi died and are even more so now. Not because of retribution or revenge but because one day Edwin Hopkins will be released into the community."

In the former mining village of Ansley Common many expressed relief that Naomi's killer was no longer living among them.

Neighbours of the Smith family said they were pleased with the verdict and that the matter could finally be put to rest.