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Hitmen came at dawn for Derrick Hugh

Sunday, August 19, 2012    

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HIS lifeless body, partially nude from the waist down and lying spreadeagled on the green grass of his Springfield-on-Sea residence in the wee hours of a beastly November morning, threw the legal fraternity into a state of utter numbness and shock.

The man who had fallen prey to this ugly murder on November 14, 1987 was the acting registrar of the Supreme Court of Jamaica, 47-year-old Derrick Hugh, resident magistrate and a former Crown Counsel in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Hugh's murder typified callousness. The court heard how he was forced to open his bedroom door near dawn, then dragged unceremoniously outside by one of two masked gunmen, who delivered the chilling message that he had been contracted to kill him and ordered him to go downstairs to get his passport.

The court later heard that when Hugh reportedly begged the gunman to allow him to put on his underwear, the spine-tingling response was: "Come on, man! Where you going, you don't need no clothes!"

As the graphic details of the murder unfolded, the court also heard that after receiving two gunshots, and in the throes of death, Hugh hurled himself from the first floor through a closed louvre window, shattering the glass and ending up on top of a vehicle parked under the window, before hitting the ground.

The man accused of Hugh's murder was Trevor Bennett, o/c "Bulgin", a labourer from East Kingston who appeared before Justice Lloyd Ellis (now deceased) and a jury in the Circuit Court Division of the Gun Court in Kingston. The trial lasted three days.

The murder had led the morning news, bringing several members of the legal fraternity to the crime scene. Most expressed shock and consternation. Early on the scene was the Deputy Commissioner in charge of Crime Sam McKay and with him, a team of investigators.

Hugh, who was well-known as a hard worker and a man who liked to deal with matters with dispatch, took over as acting registrar of the Supreme Court at a time when there was a large backlog of cases. He was known for taking home files for review in order to get things done faster. Speculation was rife that in one case he had opened Pandora's box and that this had led to his demise.

On the evening before the gunmen came calling, Hugh was reportedly in high spirits, and staff recalled that he left office wearing his customary beaming smile. No one could have known that it would be the last time they would see him alive.

The house at Springfield-on-Sea — a faint but distinctive relic of old east Kingston — was a two-storey structure facing the seaside. Hugh occupied the upper floor, while his mother and sister occupied the ground floor. A balcony on the upper floor overlooked the blue Caribbean Sea, and one could sit and enjoy the sea breeze and the sheer tranquility of the moment from that lofty perch.

The Circuit Court heard evidence from David Whilby — a visitor who had arrived in the island the very day of Hugh's murder and who had been asleep in a room upstairs adjoining that of Hugh's — had been awakened around 3:00 am by two masked gunmen in his room. One had a gun at his back and the other had a gun at his ear.

The two gunmen flipped him over on the bed, then one of them remarked: "No man, is the wrong man!"

They pulled him off the bed and marched him to Hugh's room where Hugh was cajoled to open the door. Whilby and Hugh were ordered to lie on the floor and Bennett left to guard them.

According to Whilby, the other gunman left and returned shortly after with Mrs Hugh, the mother of the deceased. She was crying and begging them not to hurt her son. She fell on the floor. Bennett threatened to shoot Mrs Hugh if she did not keep quiet, to which the other gunman replied: "Alright man, we get paid to kill him already."

This man then left the room with Hugh. Whilby told the judge and jury he noticed that Bennett then began searching the drawers in the room, looking for money and jewellery. During this process the witness observed that the mask kept slipping from his face, thus enabling the witness to get a good look at his face.

Suddenly gunshots rang out from downstairs. Bennett, he said, jumped over him and Mrs Hugh and fled the scene. He later pointed out Bennett at an identification parade as being one of the two masked gunmen who entered Hugh's home that morning.

The forensic pathologist, Dr Royston Clifford, who performed the post-mortem examination on Hugh's body, testified that upon examination, he found an entrance gunshot wound behind the right ear which went almost vertically downwards inside to the right lung. He also found a second gunshot entrance wound in the left clavicle at the level of the left collar bone which travelled through the left chest cavity, left lung, the ascending aorta, through the right lung and lodged in the muscles of the lower right lateral chest.

In his opinion, the witness told the court, death was due to the gunshot wounds.

The police fingerprint experts testified that they found prints on some glass louvre blades removed from an upstairs window of the house which were found resting on the roof. These fingerprints on the louvre blades matched those of Trevor Bennett.

On December 21, 1987, Detective Sergeant Oswald Ayre told the court he saw Bennett at the Flying Squad headquarters in Kingston. He had known him for some nine years. Bennett indicated to him he wanted to "tell him something".

He took Bennett to the officer in charge of the investigation, Superintendent Donald Brown (now ACP retired ), and in the presence of Senior Superintendent Isadore "Dick" Hibbert (now ACP in charge of Crime - retired) a statement was taken from Bennett.

The defence, represented by Terrence Ballentine and Paul Beswick, objected to this statement being admitted into evidence. After voire dire proceedings — an in-camera trial — the trial judge ruled the statement admissible.

It was tendered in evidence by Ms Paula Llewellyn, QC, now Director of Public Prosecutions, who marshalled the Crown's case.

In the statement, Bennett related how he had been walking in a gully about 2:00 am on November 14, 1987 when he saw one 'Lukie' and told him he had no money. Lukie told him he knew where they could go to get some and he decided to go. Lukie had a gun and told him he was going to a house at the beach where some foreigners were staying. He walked with Lukie to the premises.

Lukie went on to the roof and he (accused) removed some louvre blades and they both entered the building. He did not admit in the statement to having had a gun, but he agreed in the main with Whilby's testimony as to what transpired inside the house.

He also gave the names of the other two men who he said participated in the murder and where they could be located.

As a result of the information gleaned from Trevor Bennett, a team of Flying Squad detectives was dispatched by Senior Superintendent Hibbert to Arnett Gardens to capture the named suspect, Lukie Campbell. It was believed Campbell could supply the much-needed information about the person or persons who hired/contracted the gunmen to murder Hugh. Hibbert later told the court that Campbell was killed in a confrontation with the police.

Hugh's sister recounted for the court how after she heard a commotion in the house early that fateful morning, she opened her bedroom door and saw a gunman holding her brother by his neck. She started to shout and the gunman fired at her and the shots caught her on both arms. Her brother was shot by the gunman and jumped through a window, shattering the glass louvres. He landed on a van parked under the window, then fell beside the van — dead. The gunmen escaped.

In his defence, Bennett repeated a lot of what he had said in the statement given to the police. He added that he had been "set up" due to the fact that he had "screeched" (informed) on some of his colleagues to the police in a previous robbery case. He had lost his job and therefore had no money for his baby's food as a result of his being held by the police at that time.

Those same men, he told the court, had threatened to kill him in the gully but they afterward decided that he (Bennett) should accompany them on the Hugh robbery. He got inside the house and woke up Whilby who was visiting.

This is how Bennett described the events leading to Hugh's tragic and untimely death:

"He (Lukie) asked the man who else was there and he said that another man was in the other room. But in this house, sir, what I saw was not likely to be no robbery. What I saw in the house did not look like a robbery. If it were a robbery I would not know what they were going for. The approach to me was that it was a robbery, but I did not think it was; but when I see some books on the law of Jamaica that is the time I get to realise that is maybe someone from the counsel or bar, or a lawyer, or somebody living there.

"He then took the man into the room which Mr Hugh was and began asking him for a book. 'Show me your passport'. He was asking him for his book... must be passport book. I was wondering what's going on at this time. An old lady came upstairs afterwards and asked 'what have my son done?' and Lukie reply to her that "your son is fi dead".

"He then put the old lady to sit down and she was saying — 'Lord have mercy upon us' and things like that. He told her to stop making all that loud noise and she said — 'what have he done; what have he done? He has done nothing.' He replied to her: "We get pay fi kill him, him a go dead."

Bennett, in his detailed unsworn statement, said he had nothing to do with Hugh's death. But the jury found otherwise and judged him guilty as charged.

An appeal was lodged with the local Court of Appeal. The appellant was represented by Delroy Chuck who filed and argued one main ground of appeal:

"That the learned trial judge failed to impress upon the jury that if, after review of all the evidence, they are left in reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the accused then they must acquit. In particular, the burden and standard of proof have not been properly explained and presented to the jury."

The court held, inter alia, that the trial judge's direction which emphasised to the jury the duty of the Crown to satisfy them so that they "feel sure, that the accused has no such burden, and if they disbelieved, or were in doubt they could not convict', is, in our view, adequate."

The Court of Appeal noted that in their view, the case for the appellant was defended on the basis that he was not part of the common design and had no intention to kill. He said that his companion had a gun; the Crown's case was that both had guns.

The judgement continued: "In view of the fact that no ground of appeal was filed relating to common design, the court nevertheless enquired of Mr Chuck if he had any submissions to make in that regard. He indicated that he had given such a ground of appeal some consideration but had concluded that the Crown's case was overwhelming, as the applicant had put himself on the scene and in the circumstances any such submission would be a waste of time."

In the result, the court concluded that on his own case the applicant, Bennett, was aware, or ought to have been, that the plan was not robbery, but murder. Despite this he remained on guard and made no attempt to remove himself from the scene prior to the commission of the murder.

"In our judgement, he was clearly, in this case, a part of a common design, which was to execute Mr Hugh. For these reasons the application for leave to appeal is refused," the Court of Appeal judge ruled.

NEXT WEEK: How Sandokhan met his fateful end

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

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