'Bunny' Francis's killers to be sentenced March 25

'Bunny' Francis's killers to be sentenced March 25

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

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Carlos Batista and George Gardner, the two men found guilty Monday by a judge for the 2011 murder of Roderick “Bunny” Francis, a high-profile player in the local fishing industry, will on March 25 know their fate.

Francis — then CEO of B&D Trawling Limited — was shot outside his Queensway, St Andrew, home on Saturday, June 25, 2011, by gunmen pretending to have car trouble, in a suspected contract killing.

The police subsequently arrested Carlos Batista of Allerdyce Drive, Kingston 8, George Gardner, Sheldon Watson, and Newton Welsh, all of Kingston addresses, in connection with the killing.

However, at the start of the trial in October last year, the prosecution offered no evidence against Welsh, which left the court with no recourse but to let him walk. But Watson later that month changed his plea to guilty for the offence of accessory after the fact to murder and was sentenced on December 10 last year to two years' imprisonment suspended for three years with supervision.

Batista and Gardner were found guilty by Supreme Court Judge Justice Georgiana Fraser following an approximately eight-week trial. The prosecution, led by Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn, offered evidence from 36 witnesses including direct eyewitness testimonies of Francis' son and his wife. The prosecution also relied on scientific circumstantial evidence including call data records (calls and text messages) and vehicular tracking evidence.

It was revealed that Batista a Dominican Republic citizen who was at one point employed by Francis before he left the company to work with a direct competitor of Francis known as DYC Fishing plotted with Gardner and at least one other person to kill his former boss. Batista rented a motor vehicle which was used to stake-out Francis' residence and was also used as the getaway vehicle. The evidence also showed that on the date of the killing, Francis was ambushed along Queensway as he drove from his home. His son, who was at home and leaving in another vehicle behind his father, challenged the assailant in a gun battle and shot the getaway vehicle. Batista afterwards contacted Watson, who facilitated and assisted with the repairs of the getaway vehicle.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), in a statement issued to the media Monday, gave special commendations to the witnesses who gave evidence in the matter.

“The witnesses demonstrated tremendous courage and fortitude throughout the long period that this case was before the court and its many delays. Once again, the Office takes this opportunity to highlight that cases of this nature cannot be tried without witnesses who are prepared to come forward and give the evidence despite any delay,” the ODPP stated.

Llewellyn further commended investigating officer Detective Inspector Mark Foster and the officers of the Major Investigations Taskforce (MIT) which conducted the investigations, as well as the expert analysts, Deputy Superintendent Warren Williams and Sergeant Shawn Brown of the Communication Forensics and Cybercrimes Division of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

The trial, which was held in-camera, took place after a series of starts and stops over the years caused by varying issues ranging from documents being outstanding to a disagreement between prosecution and defence on how the matter should be tried. The trial was once again postponed as late as 2019 after the defence requested that it be tried by a judge alone, while the prosecution insisted upon a judge and jury. In another twist, three of the accused gave their then attorneys the boot, further stalling the proceedings.

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