Cops go free

Two in so-called 'death squad' trial leave court in high spirits; third has three more murder charges to answer

BY TANESHA MUNDLE
Observer staff reporter
mundlet@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, January 03, 2019

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THE three police officers who were bring tried for the murder of a man in May Pen, Clarendon, eight years ago were yesterday freed in the Home Circuit Court.

The trio – Detective Corporal Kevin Adams, District Constable Howard Brown and Constable Carl Bucknor – who were accused of the death of Andrew Bisson were freed after the lead prosecutor, Queen's Counsel Caroline Hay, offered no further evidence in the case following a ruling from Chief Justice Bryan Sykes that he would not allow three statements given by the Crown's key witness to be adduced into evidence.

The witness, who is now dead, is said to have been outside the one-room house when Bisson was shot and killed on September 5, 2011.

Hay, in offering no further evidence, said that based on what had transpired the prosecution would be unable to negate the defence's position of self-defence.

Consequently, Constable Bucknor and District Constable Brown left the court in high spirits while Adams, who is charged in three other murder matters, and has been in custody now for five years, was remanded until January 17, when a bail application will be made for him.

“I am happy for the outcome; I was optimistic from the get-go because we acted professionally and we were defended by a team of excellent counsels,” an overjoyed Brown told the Jamaica Observer. “I am grateful for the services of the court and I was optimistic that if the evidence was brought out on a level playing field this would be the outcome.”

A beaming Constable Bucknor, who made a call on his cellphone to share the good news of his freedom as he stepped out of court said, “Justice has been served.”

“I had to restructure my whole life and I had to try and cope; this happened through the lawful execution of my duty. It was really difficult but I had to stay strong for my family,” said the constable, who was supported by his elated mother who said the verdict was a wonderful New Year's gift.

Meanwhile, lead counsel for Corporal Adams, Queen's Counsel Valerie Neita-Robertson said her client is very pleased with the outcome and remains very optimistic.

“Adams is a very strong person... so far it has been five years and at every juncture they have opposed bail while the other persons with whom he is charged are on bail, but I think he is feeling more optimistic that one matter is gone and that was supposed to be Independent Commission of Investigations' (INDECOM) strongest matter so we are ready for the others.”

Before the case collapsed, the defence and Chief Justice Sykes had taken issue with the signatures that were affixed to the witness statement noting they were noticeably different, consequently a voir dire was held in which both the defence and the prosecution had brought handwriting experts to speak to the authenticity of the document as it relates to the handwriting of the witness. The prosecution had also brought a witness who testified that he saw the witness signing the documents.

Both experts had used the witness's passport and tax registration number application forms to examine his handwriting and according to the prosecution expert, the three statements were signed by him. But the expert for the defence said that the signatures that were written on the passport differed from that on the statements.

Hence, Justice Sykes, in making his ruling, told the court that the evidence presented by the prosecution's handwriting expert was unreliable and unacceptable based on her internal logic.

He said he also found it of concern that the expert witness told the court twice that she did not look for dissimilarities when she was assessing the documents, although she later agreed with the defence that one significant dissimilarity could mean that another person had done the writing.

Further to that, the chief justice said although the Crown's theory was that the body of the statements was not written by the witness, the prosecution's expert was unable to challenge the defence's expert opinion that the body of the document and the signatures were done by the same person, because the prosecution's witness had not assessed the body of the documents as she was not told to do so.

Justice Sykes before instructing the jury to return a not guilty verdict of the three accused said, “The Crown was always going to have a problem negating self-defence.”

He pointed to the fact that one of the Crown's key witness had lied about his correct name for seven years and had only came clean shortly before the trial started and that the same witness had provided descriptions of the accused men which did not remotely match any of them.

Justice Sykes also underscored the importance of conducting criminal trials in a timely manner to avoid situations where statements need to be adduced, or witness and exhibits cannot be located, as well as for the investigation process to be pristine and for the witness to reliable.

In the meantime, the defence team, which was also happy with yesterday's outcome, said it was what they had expected, as the case was very weak from the outset.

“This is an outcome that we expected; this is an outcome that the prosecutor ought to have embarked on before because clearly the prosecution's case had broken down and still they continued and this is the result.

“[The] concern that I have expressed before is that these investigations should be more thorough and more fair before police officers are brought before the court. We don't believe that anyone is above the law... whoever they may be. If they commit a crime they should be brought to book but we want to see fair investigation that is honest and clean and we are of the view that this was not done in this case,” said Queen's Counsel Kenneth Churchill Neita.

“From the inception of this case INDECOM has tried to portray this matter as a so-called death squad operation, this was a legitimate police operation organised by an inspector at the station who led the party. So for them to try and bring Chucky Brown into this matter was most unacceptable and I hope this sort of conduct does not repeat itself,” said another defence counsel, Dwight Reese.

Said Queen's Counsel Neita-Robertson: “It has always been my view that this matter should not have been prosecuted because the case has been extremely weak, the identification of the persons said to have committed this did not at all fit the identity of the accused persons and that alone was a red flag by itself, so I am satisfied.”

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