This book shows that DNA evidence is not failsafe. That mistakes can happen, assumptions made and that these can result in miscarriages of justice.
In 2008 a Somali-born Melbourne man Farah Jama, 21 was sentenced to six years jail for the rape of a woman in a suburban nightclub in the eastern suburbs.
Author Julie Szego tells this story of a man who maintained his innocent throughout. Jama’s conviction was eventually overturned and he was released and paid a substantial compensation payout from the government.
Szego details machinations of DNA testing and the reliance on science to make or break criminal cases. There’s also interesting detail of the Somali community in Melbourne and the challenges that young males who came to Australia as refugees face integrating into society. In particular, I found this aspect of the book really intriguing because when I was a high school teacher in London I taught quite a few Somali-born teens.
So, if Jama didn’t rape “Maria” in the Doncaster nightclub, what happened and why was his DNA on a database?
Szego details the reasons who Jama’s DNA was there. She interviews a young woman called “Taylah” who was involved in a sexual act with Jama and several other men the night before the alleged rape of Maria. This is uncomfortable and compelling reading.
As a journalist myself I was really compelled my Szego’s frank descriptions of what it is like to write a book and to tell other people’s stories. Her collaboration with Jama does not go to plan and this line she wrote really stuck in my mind: “Journalists swoop on people’s stories, pick the eyes out, mangle and reshape until they’re something entirely different. We thieve and desecrate for a living…”.
It’s the dilemma of the profession. Szego has written an important book. Told an important story about the criminal justice system and its flaws.
The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama is published by Wild Dingo Press.