The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama

Julie Szego

The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama
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The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama

Julie Szego

In the style of literary non-fiction comes a compelling, true story that will appeal to mystery, crime and “CSI” aficionados and anyone interested in justice for all in the midst of cultural diversity.

0n 21st July 2008, 21-year-old Somali, Farah Jama was sentenced to six years behind bars for the rape of a middle-aged woman as she lay unconscious in a Melbourne nightclub.

Throughout the trial Jama had maintained his innocence against the accusations he committed such a predatory, heinous crime.

But the Prosecution had one ‘rock solid’ piece of evidence that nailed the accused-his DNA.

Nearly 18 months after Jama’s incarceration, his conviction was overturned when a mother’s profound faith in her son’s innocence, a prosecutor’s tenacious pursuit of truth and justice and a defence lawyer’s belief in his client, brought forth revelations that overturned one of the worst miscarriages of justice in Victorian legal history.

When journalist and lawyer, Julie Szego, set out to explore how a travesty of such magnitude could occur, she assumed she could tell the tale with journalistic detachment, delivering judgment from on high.

Instead, she found an intriguing and confronting story about the heartache of migration and the trials of integration, cultural taboos and gender wars, and the unseen prejudice that casts its spell over even the most enlightened minds. Farah Jama’s story made her question the wisdom of relying exclusively on DNA evidence as proof of guilt, and it challenged her long-held belief that the justice system was vacuum-sealed in reason.

Review

In 2008, a young Somali man was convicted of the rape of a 48-year-old woman at a Doncaster nightclub. The woman had been found unconscious in a locked toilet cubicle with her pants down: she had no recollection of the previous four hours. Had she been sexually assaulted?

Swabs were taken and sent to the Victoria Police Forensic Services Department; the tests proved positive for sperm and the incident officially became a rape case. DNA testing on the sperm matched a sample taken only 24 hours before by police in another case – that of 19-year-old Farah Jama. Jama and some friends had been accused of sexually assaulting a young woman; the police had found semen in her hair, and the DNA was Jama’s. Though this woman later said that the encounter had been consensual, Jama’s DNA remained on file. For the police, judge and jury involved with the Doncaster nightclub rape trial, here was an open and shut case – science doesn’t lie.

But the case wasn’t logical; Farah was from Footscray, he didn’t drive, he didn’t drink, and you had to be over 28 to gain entry to the Doncaster venue. The nightclub had tight security with bouncers on every door, and CCTV everywhere. No one saw a young black man that night. Yet these inconsistencies weren’t questioned until a year after Farah’s conviction.

Julie Szego’s account of this case is an absolutely enthralling work.


Mark Rubbo is the Managing Director of Readings

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