THE "death of innocence" was how the late Justice Hercules described the death of six-year-old Delwena James of Long Hill, St Catherine, as he passed the sentence of death upon her father, Aston White, o/c Aston James, labourer, in the St Catherine Circuit Court in January 1969.
The trial judge's comment followed a 15-minute decision by a jury, after hearing evidence that the child's badly decomposed body was retrieved from a pit latrine on her father's premises in January 1968. The head was almost severed; both upper limbs were missing as well as the child's left leg and foot. White, who was defended by attorney Lancelot Clarke, Sr, denied killing his daughter and blamed his stepfather for the crime.
The case for the Crown was presented by Deputy DPP Chester Orr (later retired Sr Puisne Judge) and Crown Counsel Ivan O Farquharson (later Puisne Judge, now deceased).
The first witness, White's stepfather, Elisha White, cultivator of Mount Industry, St Catherine, testified that he and the accused used to live together at Long Hill. He subsequentlly left there to live at Mount Industry but visited regularly.
In October 1967, Elisha White said, he met a girl about five years old at his stepson's Long Hill home. The accused told him the girl, Delwena, was his daughter. The stepfather said he saw Delwena at the home sometimes after that, the last time being in December 1967. He told the court that on December 18, 1967, he asked Aston White about the child and was told that she was with her aunt in Glengoffe. But when he went back to the Long Hill home on the last Friday in December, he said he smelled "something stink" in the yard. Believing the stench to be from a dog that had died, the witness told the court that he searched for the carcass, but found nothing.
Later that day, he spoke to one Sam Harris who went with him to the yard of the accused. Harris eventually bought grapes from him (witness), after which he went home to Mount Industry.
The following Saturday morning, Elisha White said, he returned to Long Hill and he told the accused that he could not stand the stench of the place. Aston White told him that he had killed two rats and threw them in the latrine. The witness said he then left for Sam Harris' home.
He recalled that on the Friday and Saturday the child Delwena was not at the Long Hill home.
When he left Harris' home, the witness said, he went to his field to get some food. On the way, he met the accused and asked him about Delwena. He said the accused told him that he had removed her to Cassava River.
The witness said that he went to Long Hill three days later and noticed a heap of earth some distance away from Aston White's house. He had also noticed that the concrete around the latrine which was about three quarters of a chain from the house, was damaged and the flooring ripped.
On the way back to Mount Industry that day, the witness related, he was with one Joseph Hammond, and they met Aston White going to Long Hill. Hammond and White spoke about monies White owed to Hammond. The witness said Hammond asked about the little girl and White said she was at Cassava River.
At Mount Industry, the witness continued, he found the child's mother and spoke with her on the Wednesday, then he made a report to the Glengoffe police.
According to the witness, on the Thursday morning, District Constable Stewart came to his house at Mount Industry and later the same morning, he (witness) went to Long Hill
to find accused still in bed. Policemen came to the yard later and the witness showed them where the dirt was freshly dug. He said that while he was showing an officer the latrine, accused ran out of the kitchen. He never saw the accused again until sometime in October 1968, when he went to the Spanish Town Police Station and identified him.
The next day, witness said, the police demolished the latrine where the little girl's body was found. He identified a machete dug from the pit as belonging to the accused and later, he told of watching them take the body from the hole. He said it was wrapped in "something like white clothes". In January 1968, Elisha White continued, he went to the Linstead Hospital and identified the child's body to be that of Delwena James.
Cross-examined by Lancelot Clarke, counsel for the defence, the witness said he did not know whether Gloria Davis, the child's mother, was living with his (the witness') wife. He said that in November 1967 he visited Long Hill four times. He insisted he last saw Delwena alive in the first week of December 1967, not the third week in November 1967. The witness stated he went to Long Hill on December 18, 1967 and that was when accused told him Dell was in Glengoffe - and he had not been back there until the last Friday in December 1967.
He explained that the latrine was south of the house; the freshly dug hole he found was further south behind the latrine, about one chain from the house. The day he was looking for the dog, he had made a thorough search of the area but he did not see the hole then. He first saw it on Tuesday, January 2, 1968, he told the court.
Retired Inspector of Police John Hutchinson testified that in January of l968, while he was in charge of the CID in St Catherine, he received a report and consequently went to premises at Long Hill, accompanied by Detective Sgt Woodrow Edwards of the Spanish Town CID. There he saw Elisha White who showed him a latrine which was two chains from the house; its roof was of zinc and the floor of earth and board, Hutchinson said. On the pit of the latrine was freshly dug earth.
Inspector Hutchinson said he went back to Long Hill on January 5, 1968 and Elisha White had the latrine boards removed and the pit dug. He said he found the dead body of a female child clothed in a red 'ganzie' shirt. A cutlass and a stick were also found there. He left the body under the guard of District Constable Franklin Stewart. He went back there on January 8 and had the body removed to the Linstead Hospital.
Witness said that he removed ashes from the kitchen and took earth from a recently dug hole. He made a search of the house, and found an agricultural fork which had earth similar to that found in the pit latrine. He found a bucket with similar earth, which he handed over to Det Sgt Edwards.
Hutchinson told the judge and jury also that all the limbs were not on the body of the child when he found it; both hands and the left leg were missing and could not be found. The witness further stated that on January 9, he was present at the Linstead morgue and identified the dead body as that of Delwena James, which was retrieved from the pit.
Cross-examined by Clarke, the witness said that the earth in the area was similar to that found in the pit latrine and there was a peculiar odour coming from the latrine. The stick was sticking part up and part down, witness said, and it was Elisha White who pointed out the hole to him. He added that there was a cultivation around the house. The witness testified further that the hole was beyond the latrine and there was a considerable amount of earth in the latrine.
Det Sgt Woodrow Edwards testified that on January 4, 1968, he went to Long Hill in St Catherine with Inspector Hutchinson. He said he was on Aston White's premises when the latrine was dug and the remains of a female child's body found. It was dressed in a red 'ganzie' shirt. The shirt was placed on a line at the Spanish Town Police Station, but disappeared later and could not be found.
Witness said a cutlass, a stick and earth were taken from the latrine. He said Inspector Hutchinson handed him a bucket, an agricultural fork and some ashes, and sealed parcels were made of each item and they were handed over to a Mr Garriques at the Government Laboratory. the witness said he received them sometime after from the lab.
On October 1, the witness testified, he went to the Central Police Station in Kingston with the accused, whom he had taken to the Spanish Town Police Station. The next day, he arrested the accused on a warrant for the murder of Delwena James.
Witness further stated that on October 10, at the Spanish Town station, he saw accused write a statement and sign it. It was witnessed by Inspector Gray, Corporal Allen and himself. He said no threat, promise or inducements were made to accused for him to write the statement. The witness said the accused was in custody.
Cross-examined by counsel for the defence, witness said that Inspector Hutchinson was in charge of the investigations and after the examination of the body by Dr March, he did not make up his mind to arrest anyone. The witness said he obtained the warrant of arrest on August 13, 1968.
Police Sergeant Kenneth Scott of the Central Police Station, said that on October 1, while on duty in front of the Jubilee market at Heywood Street in Kingston, he received certain information, and saw the accused, Aston White, going through the south-western gate of the market. He went after the accused and stopped him at the corner of Matthews Lane and West Queen Street, and asked him if his name was Aston White to which the accused replied 'no'. The witness said that he took accused with Central police station and contacted the Spanish Town police.
Inspector of Police Neville Gray, in charge of the Spanish Town station, said that on October 10, 1968, he went to the cells on general rounds and saw accused in a cell and spoke to him. Witness said that accused told him that he wanted to give a statement, but that none of the policemen would take it.
The witness said he asked the accused if the statement he wished to give was in connection with the crime, to which the accused replied in the affirmative. The witness said that he told the accused that arrangements could be made to have the statement taken.
About 2:00 pm the same day, the witness said, he returned to the cell block and the accused shouted that he (the Inspector) had promised to make them take his statement but nobody had done so.
Witness said he took accused to his office and made him write it himself in the presence of Det Sgt Edwards and Cpl Allen. He added that after the accused finished writing the statement, he told the accused to read it over, and if he was satisfied with what he wrote, he (the accused) should sign it. The witness said the accused did so. The statement was read to the jury by the acting Registrar, attorney Anthony Lee Hing.
Noel Clinton March, medical practitioner and pathologist, (deceased) said that on January 9, 1968, he examined the remains of a female child at the Linstead morgue, whom he said appeared to be about six years old. Upon examination, the body was at an advanced stage of decomposition with the head almost severed, with two fractures at the left side of the skull. The left leg and foot and both upper limbs were missing.
The doctor said he was unable to tell the cause of death, which could have been caused from the slash at the neck. The witness said the body could have been in the pit for about seven days; the cutlass shown in court could have caused the neck wound: its blunt side could have fractured the skull. The same result could have come from the stick being used with severe force.
The prosecution having closed its case, Aston White (the accused) made an unsworn statement from the dock. According to him, he and Elisha White lived at his house with a child. He had to go out and do a little work and he asked Elisha to take care of what he had. The child and Elisha replied 'yes'.
The accused said he left for two weeks and returned, finding Elisha White absent from the home. He missed his suitcase. He said he didn't see Elisha White until the next morning. Elisha came to the home and he (the accused) asked him if he had taken out his suitcase to which Elisha replied 'yes'.
He said Elisha left and went under a tree, took up the suitcase and brought it to him wrapped in a plastic covering. The accused said he asked Elisha why he took it out the house, and Elisha told him that thieves were in the area, and as he was not going to be there, he took it out. The accused said he instructed Elisha that whenever he (accused) was leaving, Elisha was never to take out the suitcase because water would spoil it. The accused then asked Elisha for the child and Elisha told him the child was dead.
He inquired the cause of death and Elisha told him he (Elisha) left the child in the home, went to bush for chocolate and when he returned, he did not see her; he asked neighbours but they did not see her. He then went searching around until he found her in the latrine.
The accused said he asked Elisha if he had reported this to the police and Elisha said 'yes'. The accused said he left the house for a few minutes. When he returned, Elisha acknowledged that he killed the child and said he (Elisha) was going to tell him the truth.
According to the accused, Elisha then offered him £77 to go away to England and he told Elisha that he did not want his money as Elisha had killed his child to win back his wife.
The Deputy DPP and the counsel for the defence addressed the jury and the court adjourned until the following day, January 23, 1969 when the judge summed up the case to the jury, which retired for 15 minutes and returned with a unanimous verdict of guilty as charged. Aston White was then sentenced to death by Justice Hercules.
Next week: Man convicted three times for murder of his girlfriend's alleged lover.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org