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British law lords trash murder conviction in Shirley Playfair case (Part I)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012    

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FOLLOWING is part one of the judgement handed down yesterday by the United Kingdom Privy Council, in which they overturned the murder conviction of Annette Livingston in the murder case of attorney Shirley Playfair:

1. On 10 April 2003 the appellant was convicted at the Home Circuit Court of Kingston, Jamaica of the murder, on 13 April 2000, of Shirley Playfair. She was tried and convicted with two other defendants, Ramone Drysdale and Ashley Ricketts. It was alleged that a fourth person, Dwayne Williams, who absconded before trial, was also party to the joint enterprise to murder. The appellant, Drysdale and Ricketts were all sentenced to life imprisonment. It was ordered that the appellant should not be eligible for parole before the expiry of 60 years. The corresponding periods in respect of Drysdale and Ricketts were set at 55 and 45 years respectively.

2. On 31 July 2006 the Court of Appeal refused the applications of the appellant and Drysdale for leave to appeal against their convictions. Their applications for leave to appeal against sentence were allowed in respect of the minimum terms they were to serve

before becoming eligible for parole, which were reduced to 35 years. Ricketts' conviction for murder was quashed and a conviction for manslaughter was substituted, with a sentence of 20 years' imprisonment. The appellant subsequently obtained permission from the Court of Appeal to appeal to Her Majesty in Council. Drysdale applied to Her Majesty for special leave to appeal. His application was heard at the same time as the appellant's appeal, and was refused.

The evidence

3. The deceased was a partner in a firm of attorneys. The appellant had worked for her as a secretary for about 17 years. The evidence disclosed that at about 12 noon on 13 April 2000 a blue Datsun 120Y taxi, driven by Ricketts and carrying Drysdale and

Williams, drove to the building where the firm's offices were situated. Drysdale and Williams entered the offices and cut the deceased's throat. They then returned to the taxi.

As they were driving away, the taxi was stopped by the police and the occupants were arrested. Drysdale was wearing a blood-stained shirt. A shirt taken from Williams was found to be stained with the deceased's blood. Knives recovered from Drysdale and Williams were also stained with her blood.

4. The firm's offices were on the upper floor of a two storey building. They were accessed from the ground floor by stairs, which led to an entrance with a glass door. Beyond the entrance was a reception area where the receptionist and four secretaries, including the appellant, had their desks. The secretaries' desks were grouped together in the centre of the reception area. The receptionist's desk was in a corner to the right of the entrance, beyond an area where there was seating for visitors. The door to the deceased's office was to one side of the receptionist's desk. To the other side there was a door giving access to a balcony which overlooked the front of the building. To the left of the entrance there was a photocopier and, beyond it, a bathroom, a lunch room, and a number of offices.

5. Sonia Burke worked for the deceased as a secretary. She gave evidence that, when the incident began, she was working at her desk in the reception area. The appellant and the receptionist, Hope Dell, were also at their desks. Two people entered and went over to the appellant's desk. Shortly afterwards Miss Burke heard a scream. She saw Miss Dell go towards the deceased's office, then run towards the lunch room. Miss Burke ran after her to the lunch room. The appellant and Verna Richards were already in the lunch room, together with the office manager, Cleopatra Graham (also known as Mrs Grier), and another secretary, Lisa Thompson.

6. Mrs Richards also worked for the deceased as a secretary. She gave evidence that she was in the lunch room with Mrs Grier and Miss Thompson when the incident began. She heard a scream. When she heard a second scream, the appellant was standing in the doorway of the lunch room, holding the handle of the door. Mrs Richards forced her way past the appellant into the reception area. There she saw a man wringing a knife into the deceased's neck. She turned and ran back towards the lunch room. Before she got there, she felt someone grab her by the neck. She pitched forwards and the grip on her neck was released. She did not see the person who had held her. As the door to the lunch room was closed, she went into one of the offices, bolted the door behind her and telephoned the police. She later attended an identification parade, where she identified Drysdale as the man she had seen wringing the knife in the deceased's neck.

7. Mrs Richards also gave evidence that she had previously given a deposition at committal proceedings ("the preliminary enquiry") held on 14 September 2000, at which four people were in the dock: the three defendants at the trial and Williams. According to her evidence at the trial, she recognised Williams as someone she had seen in the office about a week before the murder. He came inside the office and went over to the appellant.

He spoke to her for more than ten minutes before leaving. Mrs Richards claimed to have seen him again on a later occasion before the murder, when he came to the staircase leading up from the ground floor. The appellant went to the staircase and spoke to him.

Mrs Richards claimed to have seen Williams for about ten seconds on that occasion. She claimed to have informed Crown counsel at the preliminary enquiry, Christopher Townsend, and two other persons present on that occasion, Mr Nelson and Miss Linton, about her identification of Williams. No statement had however been taken from her in relation to her identification of Williams, and this evidence was introduced at the trial without prior notice to the defence.

(See continuation in tomorrow's Daily Observer)

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