Chief Justice explains not guilty verdict in gang trial

Chief Justice explains not guilty verdict in gang trial

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

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KINGSTON, Jamaica — Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, in handing down a stunning “not guilty” verdict in the nearly seven-month long trial against six men who were accused of committing dastardly acts as members of a Westmoreland-based gang, this morning said the absence of “support” for evidence given by the star prosecution witness was a huge deciding factor.

The star witness, over several days at the start of the trial in January, testified via live video link from an undisclosed location that the alleged gang members, including himself, were involved in the deadly lottery scamming scheme, committed murders and rapes in the course of robberies, and were also murderers for hire.

The witness said he had, in 2018, handed himself over to the police and decided to give evidence against the others after they killed seven of his own family members, including his father, aunt, two uncles, a cousin, his sister, and an in-law, in seeking to pull him out of hiding.

Today, in handing down the verdict in the bench trial which has been severely set back by the "illness" of at least two accused and the coronavirus pandemic, Justice Sykes said “to ask a court to act upon the evidence of Mr (name omitted) in the state that it is, is really a big ask in the absence of support in the areas where one would expect support in the narrative or at least an explanation.

“Were I now to act upon the evidence of Mr (name omitted) in its present state, that would be a grievous matter because what it would mean is that here is a man who comes to the Supreme Court and tells us he is a murderer, a contract killer, a rapist, a robber and a scammer and you have these proven inconsistencies and there is no support raised.

“I must say I am not excited about [the] witness and when we have very very serious offences of this nature then clearly the evidence has to be of better quality.

“In the areas of his testimony where he could have been challenged, he was challenged successfully, so that says to the decider of facts what about these other areas where there is absence of support? The absence of support leaves it open for the witness to pick and choose,” he added.

The Chief Justice said other than with respect to one count, “there is no other evidence supporting the narrative of Mr (name omitted) on any of the other counts”.

“So in terms of the allegations of sexual assault, for example, spoken of by the witness in which he says he was involved...while I understand that there are victims of sexual assault who are reticent and may not readily come forward and give evidence, here it is you have an accomplice who says I raped this woman and she is the sister of Ika Clarke (man it was alleged was killed by some gang members) whose (relative) comes here (as a witness during the case) and he doesn't say, but I suppose he couldn't say because he wasn't asked, do you have a daughter? We don't know, he may not be the father, but he wasn't asked,” the Chief Justice stated.

“There was no fleshing out of circumstances where one would expect that to happen. The law tells us that while it is not necessary to have corroboration, it is desirable. There is no explanation placed before this court as to why there is no victim. We have three established instances where the witness's evidence is in direct contradiction to his statement to the police. He may be speaking the truth, but is his evidence reliable?,” the Chief Justice pondered.

In the meantime, of the six men, the Observer understands that only one individual, Copeland Sankey, will be actually released. The remaining five have other matters pending before at least two other courts.

The six — Carlington Godfrey, alias Tommy; Rannaldo McKennis, otherwise known as Ratty; Derval Williams, also called Lukie; Christon Grant, alias Ecoy; Lindell Powell, also called Lazarus; and Copeland Sankey, also known as Tupac — had been charged in an indictment containing 11 counts on suspicion of being part of a criminal organisation, providing benefits to a criminal organisation, and conspiring to commit murder, rape and robbery with aggravation from as early as 2013.

The men had been in custody since October 2018.

Alicia Dunkley-Willis

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