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Bridge Association president murdered for his Roma watch

Sybil E Hibbert

Sunday, January 05, 2014    

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ON the night of January 28, 1968, accountant and former Tourist Board Executive, Oscar Honiball, 62, was cut down by a bullet to his forehead as he sat peacefully on his verandah, in the presence of his wife, Marie, at their Ottawa Avenue residence in St Andrew.

Within weeks, detectives from the Half-Way-Tree CID had Alexander Francis, a 36-year-old labourer, residing at 18 Cedar Valley Road, Kingston 6 who was the alleged shooter in custody for the killing of Honiball, well known at the time as director of all tournaments organised by the Jamaica Bridge Association.

Francis, who was defended at trial by attorneys W K Chin See and Patrick Atkinson (now attorney general), denied in an unsworn statement from the dock that he had shot Honiball. The Crown, represented by Crown Counsel R O C White (later judge of Appeal and now deceased), had alleged that Honiball's Roma watch was stolen from his wrist

that night.

Sentence of death was passed on Francis by the late Justice Uriah Parnell on Friday, October 18, 1968, after the mixed jury retired for 15 minutes and returned a unanimous verdict of guilty of murder.

During this very riveting trial in the No 1 Home Circuit Court, Glen Anderson, labourer of 6 Rapheal Avenue, St Andrew, a witness for the prosecution, testified on March 14, 1968 to having met Alexander Francis at the Half-Way-Tree lock-up, while they were both in custody there. Anderson told the court also that he was serving the prisoners food at that time and that the accused spoke to him, telling him that he (Francis) was charged with murder. When he asked Francis for which murder, he told him "a man they call Honiball".

Continuing, Anderson said he asked Francis how he had found himself in it, and Francis replied that he and a man named Green and one named Dampadan had gone up to Honiball's home the night and he saw the man leaning back on a chair.

He (Francis) had approached Honiball and Dampadan drew a gun. Honiball raised up and kicked the gun out of Dampadan's hand. The two started wrestling and he (Francis) shot after Honiball and it caught him in the forehead, the witness was told.

Anderson stated that Francis further told him that when he (Francis) saw a woman coming out of the house, he ran and jumped over a neighbouring yard; a child saw him but he ducked and came out on the road. The witness said Francis asked him to assist him for "they have gun detector looking for the gun" and wanted him (witness) to go for it when he got out on bail, among other things. He said that Francis asked him when he (witness) got out on bail that he should to go for the gun (exhibited in the case) which was behind "Mr Manhertz's old lady yard behind the gully". Anderson said Francis also told him that he had filled the gun with sand and was afraid they would find it and find his fingerprints on it.

The witness reported: "He asked me to destroy it and mash it up and throw it in the sea. He said he got a watch and carry it to Mr DeSouza to sell it to him for £7, but DeSouza would not take it. He said he carry it to country. He told me to tell Cornett (his son) to go to country and try not to make police hold him. He said I must try to give evidence for him to say he was at my home. If I could not do it, I must get someone, for his people at his home are against him. I told him I would do so."

Anderson further testified that following that conversation with Francis, he (the witness) spoke to the station guard and later to Det Inspector Linford Sweetland who took a statement from him.

Cross-examined, the witness said he had given evidence before the magistrate that Francis had told him that he (accused) had fired two shots. Witness said Francis told him he had exchanged the watch for two pounds of ganja. Francis also told him that Dampadan could be found at Rosemary Lane, and Green lived at Mongoose Pen in Spanish Town. Anderson said he knew that Francis had a sister named Myrtle, "who me and she used to move together. We moved together from 1954". The one-week trial was packed with some 18 witnesses for the prosecution giving evidence in what was regarded as a case that impacted greatly on the players of bridge in Jamaica and elsewhere.

In an unsworn statement from the dock, Francis told the court that on the night of January 28 he went to visit a friend at Bonner Pen Lane. His friend was not there so he took a bus and came off at the bus stop by the Shell gas station. He never went out again that night, he testified. He insisted he did not go to Honiball's premises that night, that he did not kill Honiball and that he got the watch from a man whose name he did not know for £4. He took the watch to the country and sold it for £8.

The reason why he denied this to the police, he said, was because he thought the watch had been stolen. He concluded his defence by saying that he never told Crown witness, Glen Anderson, anything.

Earlier in the trial, the court had heard from Vera Harvey that at the time of the incident she was employed at 16 Ottawa Avenue, and that on January 28, 1968 about 7:30 pm she heard an explosion and then heard Mrs Honiball scream. As she came out on her verandah, Harvey said, she saw a man, dressed in what appeared to be a washed-out khaki shirt and whitish hat, pass by the light in the street. After the man passed, the witness said, she went over to 23 Ottawa Avenue and there she saw Honiball lying on the verandah, and his wife, who was coming from the direction of the drawing room, was bawling for help.

Harvey said she did not touch Honiball's body and she did not see anybody take anything from the body. Later, the police arrived.

Cross-examined, the witness said that when she went to 23 Ottawa Avenue she was the first person to arrive there and she noticed a mark on Honiball's wrist. witness indicated that this mark was in the region of where Honiball would have worn a watch.

Bertram Cameron, steel worker of Barnett Pen Lane, St Andrew said he knew Francis as "Walichi". On January 28, 1968, the witness said, he saw Francis walking along Mona Road towards Ottawa Avenue about 7:00 pm. He (witness Cameron) and one Leslie Tavares were going towards Cedar Valley Road and Confidence View Lane.

Cameron told the court that Francis had on an old felt hat without rim, a brown wind-breaker, and brown pants. The witness said he called to Francis saying "Hi 'Walichi'" and Francis replied, "Awright". About 7:45 pm, Cameron continued, he was standing at the corner of Hope Road and Confidence View Lane when he saw Francis coming from the direction of "Reggie's gas station". Francis was dressed in the same clothes in which he had seen him earlier. Francis passed him and went down Confidence View Lane.

On January 30, 1968 about 2:00 pm, Cameron said, he was on a bridge at Confidence View Lane, when Francis called to a man named Hopeton and told Hopeton that he had something to show him. Cameron said Francis took an envelope from his back pocket, took out a round gold watch and offered to sell it to Hopeton for £9. Hopeton looked at the watch and returned it to Francis who later walked towards DeSouza's home. The witness identified the watch in court that he said he saw Francis with on the bridge.

Robert Honiball, son of the deceased, of 20 Earls Court, St Andrew, told the court that his father had a gold-plated wristwatch with a gold band that could be extended. He said he saw his father alive for the last time on January 27, 1968, and at that time his father had on the wristwatch.

After receiving a telephone call on January 28, the witness said, he went from Discovery Bay to Kingston but did not see his father at Ottawa Avenue, the body had been removed by that time. Sometime in February, the witness said, he was shown a watch by Detective Inspector Sweetland; the watch was in good condition but the band was missing. The witness identified the watch in court, as the one his father had.

Dr Louis Dawson, medical officer for Lower St Andrew, testified that he carried out a post-mortem examination on the body of Honiball which was identified by Wellesley Bourke. He said death was due to shock, which in turn was due to cerebral haemorrhage caused by a bullet wound.

Detective Inspector Linford Sweetland in charge of the Half-Way-Tree CID, also told the court that he received a report on January 28, 1968 and he went to 23 Ottawa Avenue, St Andrew, where he saw the body of the deceased lying on the verandah. He spoke to Mrs Honiball and he noticed that there was a bright fresh mark on the wrist of the deceased.

On February 18, 1968, the witness said he went to Matilda's Corner Police Station where he saw Francis. At that time, Sweetland said, he had an open mind. He cautioned the accused who said: "Me never go near Honiball's premises. Me no have no watch. Me never have no revolver."

The witness told the court that he had travelled to Buff Bay in Portland and that subsequently, Henry Lee and Melbourne Cherrington visited the CID office. At the CID office, in the presence of Francis, Lee said: "I bought this watch from Francis on February 4, 1968, for £8." The witness said Cherrington said: "I saw Francis with this watch at Mahoe District," and that Francis said: 'I never sell you this watch. I don't know this watch.'

During the investigations into the case, Sweetland said, Anderson was in custody. He took a statement from Anderson; he later arrested Francis and cautioned him. Francis said: "A Shaw give me watch and gun fe keep."

Cross-examined, Sweetland said he now remembered that it was on March 18, that he arrested Francis and that he took a statement from Anderson after Francis' arrest. The witness said he knew Manhertz; he knew the home of Manhertz's mother and there was a river behind the premises. In the course of his investigations, Sweetland said, he went to these premises and searched the river bed but he found nothing.

Leopold Taylor of 6 Cedar Valley Road, St Andrew, told the court that he worked as an attendant in the Laboratory Department of the UWI, and was caretaker at the Sangster's Book Store. He said he had known Francis for about seven years. About 7:05 pm on January 28, 1968 the witness testified, he was sitting on the step of the book store when he saw Francis, who was dressed in a reddish "lumberjack" and an old creamish felt hat, going up Mona Road. Francis had a gun in his waist.

Taylor said he remained where he was sitting for about half-an-hour. During that time he heard an explosion, and he and others rushed to Honiball's home. He did not see Francis again that night, but on the following Tuesday, he saw Francis selling ground provision on the piazza of Mr Lue's shop which was in front of Sangster's Book Store.

Cross-examined, the witness said the "lumberjack" was opened down the front and it partially covered the gun, but he had no difficulty in seeing the gun. The witness said he had seen the gun several times.

Shown his deposition, the witness agreed that at Half-Way-Tree he did not say that he had seen Francis with a gun that night. He said it was the first time he was giving evidence and he spoke so fast that he made some mistakes in his statement.

Henry Lee, cultivator of Mahoe district, Portland, told the court that he lived next door to Francis' father. On February 4, 1968, the witness said, he saw Francis at his (Francis') father's home, and Francis offered to sell him a gold watch for £9. Melbourne Cherrington and another man were present.

Lee said he went to his house, took £9 from his wife, and returned to Francis, whereupon, Francis took £8, returned £1 to him and told him to take the £1 and buy a band for the watch. About one week later, Lee said the police came and he handed over the watch to them.

Witness further said that on the Sunday when Francis sold him the watch, Francis also showed him a revolver. Here, Chin See objected to the evidence about the revolver, and submitted that the prejudicial effect of the evidence far outweighed its probative value and that it was unfair to lead evidence which might be construed as material without first serving notice of fresh evidence upon the defence.

His Lordship heard from counsel for the Crown and ruled that the evidence was admissible. When the examination-in-chief of Lee continued, the witness said that he held the revolver, looked down into it and saw four bullets and one spent shell. He returned the revolver to Francis.

Renford Davis, labourer of 18 Cedar Valley Road, said he knew Francis, who had lived at the same address up to February 13, 1968. The witness said he had a brother who also lived there and the round felt hat shown to him in court was his. He had left this felt hat at his brother's house on a nail and he (witness) had gone away.

Cross-examined, Davis said he remembered February 13, 1968 because on that date he was charged along with the accused. He was later released.

Assistant Supt Arthur Perkins, attached to the Half-Way-Tree Police Station (and now deceased) testified that in February 1968, he was stationed at Matilda's Corner Police Station. He said that on February 5, he was sitting in his car on Confidence View Lane when Francis whom he did not know before, came up to the car and said: "Inspector, I want to speak to you, sir." When he asked Francis what about, Francis said: "About something, shooting that go on around Ottawa Avenue the other night."

Perkins said that Francis went on to say: "Inspector, me no know nothing 'bout no shooting, sir, but me hear the police want me. Dem send man fe buy watch from me. Dem give one £6 and dem give one £5."

Perkins said he asked Francis his name and invited him to accompany him to the station, whereupon Francis said: "I was coming there this evening but I change me mind. If me mind give me, I will come tomorrow morning." Perkins said Francis walked off and he drove off. He later spoke to Det Inspector Sweetland.

Det Cpl Orville Holt, attached to Half-Way-Tree CID (and now deceased) said that on a morning in February, 1968 about 10:30 he was leaving the premises at 2 Cedar Valley Road, when Francis, whom he knew before, said to him: "Mr Holt, I hear dem say that you want me dead or alive because dem say me shoot man at Ottawa Avenue." Holt said he took Francis to the Matilda's Corner Police Station, and later he (witness), Sweetland and Francis returned to 18 Confidence View Lane where they entered a room shown them by the accused.

Sweetland took a pair of tweed pants and a brown wind-breaker which Francis was wearing. Renford Davis, who was in the yard, had a brown felt hat taken from him. Holt identified the articles and said that Francis and the articles were taken back to the station.

Among the many other witnesses giving evidence in the case were the widow of the deceased, Marie Honiball; Humphreys Desouza, mechanic of 4 Confidence View Lane; Leslie Tavares of 9 Bonner Pen Lane and John Vermont, watch repairer in charge of Swiss Stores in Kingston, who testified that Swiss Stores were agents for Roma watches.

Sybil E Hibbert is a veteran journalist and retired court reporting specialist. She is also the wife of Retired ACP Isadore 'Dick' Hibbert, rated among the top Jamaican detectives of his time. Send comments to allend@jamaicaobserver.com

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