Lauren Patterson murder trial speeds toward conclusion

Lauren Patterson with boyfriend James Grima.

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Lauren Patterson with boyfriend James Grima.

(With reporting from Riham Sheble)

A lower Doha court heard closing arguments on Thursday in the case of a British teacher who was murdered in Qatar last October.

Two Qatari men are on trial for Lauren Patterson’s death. They were arrested shortly after the 24-year-old’s smoldering remains were found by campers outside of Doha.

The men – who Doha News is not identifying pending the verdict – were the last people to see Patterson alive, according to witness testimony from the teacher’s best friend.

Last month, the friend testified that the four had left a nightclub at La Cigale hotel, and that the men dropped her home with the promise that they would also drop Patterson off shortly after. She never saw Patterson again.

Prosecutor’s arguments

During yesterday’s hearing, the prosecutor sought the death penalty for the first defendant, calling Patterson’s death heinous, foreign and shocking to a society as conservative as Qatar’s.

The defense maintains that Patterson’s death was an accident, and said confessions obtained from the two men on trial were coerced.

Painting a picture of the crime based on investigation results and confessions from the men on trial, the prosecutor said that the first defendant took Lauren to a home he used for sexual trysts with women, “conquered her body,” and killed her by stabbing her twice.

With the help of the second defendant, he put Patterson’s body in the trunk of his car and drove her to Al-Kharrara, where they burned her remains.

The prosecutor pointed to the knife that was found inside of Patterson’s remains, a strand of hair in the defendant’s car, and matching sand granules found on the remains, the tires of the first defendant’s car and shoes at his house, among other pieces of evidence.

Based on what happened, the prosecutor called for the first defendant to get the death penalty for intentionally killing Patterson. He added that because the defendant is Muslim, the Islamic Shari’a principal of qasas (retribution) should be exacted in the form of the death penalty.

Though he asserted that Patterson was sexually assaulted, forensics could not support this conclusion, as the remains were too badly burned. Thus, the prosecutor said that even if the sex was consensual, the two were not married, so the act was still a crime in Islam. So he also asked the court to punish the first defendant for having sex outside of marriage and for alcohol consumption.

Both defendants are also charged with burning Patterson’s body and damaging and erasing evidence. The prosecutor did not specify how many years in prison he was seeking for the second defendant, only saying the maximum sentence should be given.

Defense arguments

In response, the defense argued that there was not one piece of solid evidence against the defendants.

The cause of death could not be determined by the forensic examiner and the defendants’ confessions were made under duress, he said.

The first defendant was in prison for 10 days before his family found out that he was arrested, implying that the defendant was not given a chance to meet with his lawyer for all of that time. His lawyer was also not present for his confession.

According to the defense, what happened that night is that Patterson willingly went to the first defendant’s home, and got into an argument with him about her ex-boyfriend, who was a mutual friend.

Phone records support that the first defendant called Patterson’s ex at this time, he said. The attorney added that Patterson grew hysterical and attacked the first defendant with a knife, cutting his lip in a fit of rage.

Then she fell on the floor where the knife hit her, the defense attorney said.

The attorney said no causality could be proven in this case, because none of the defendant’s actions caused Patterson’s death. He also said that there was no evidence to support the alcohol consumption and illicit sex charges, and asked that his defendants be acquitted based on lack of causality and evidence.

Speedy trial

Finally, Patterson’s family lawyer addressed the court, asking that the strongest punishments be delivered to the defendants.

He also petitioned the court for monetary compensation, saying that Patterson’s mother has requested some QR20 million be paid by the defendants – QR15 million for the pain Patterson must have endured before her death, and QR5 million for the emotional damage felt by her mother.

Patterson’s mother and supporters declined to comment on the case.

The teacher’s murder has drawn significant international attention, and the trial has proceeded relatively quickly through Qatar’s court system, which has been criticized in the past for being backlogged.

Though this was just the third hearing in Patterson’s case, the verdict is expected to be delivered next month, on March 27.

This is significantly speedier than the case of a 40-year-old American teacher who was killed in her Doha flat in 2012. Hearings for Jennifer Brown’s murder trial have been repeatedly postponed, with the next one scheduled for later this month.

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