Leo Henry's murder helped to spawn the 'dreaded' Gun Court

Crimes that Rocked the Nation

Sybil E Hibbert

Sunday, February 17, 2013

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THE name Leo Henry was already well known in Kingston and Jamaica, long before two hapless gunmen opened fire on the popular businessman on a busy city street in broad daylight.

The name would be further cemented in memory when, after his murder, then Prime Minister Michael Manley hurried the construction of a Gun Court to try persons accused of shooting crimes, painting it red "so that it would look dread" and prescribing "indefinite detention".

As the wounded Henry lay sprawled on the street, the life slowly ebbing from his body, the gunmen snatched his briefcase and revolver and made their escape.

That was Kingston in March 1974, a city in the grips of "an upsurge of violence", in the words of then Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Chester Orr, QC (later Snr puisne judge, now retired).

Orr was opening the case for the prosecution in the murder trial of the two men charged with the death of the 40-year-old Henry, who was managing director of Modern Furnishing Company Ltd, situated at Slipe Road in Kingston, opposite the now defunct Tropical Theatre.

The two accused were Noel Riley, 20-year-old labourer of 2a Union Street, Mandeville, Manchester, and 19-year-old Anthony Forbes, cabinet maker of 6 Piccadilly Lane, Kingston 12.

Trial judge, the late Chief Justice Kenneth George Smith, and a jury of 12 later heard evidence about how, on the morning of March 14, 1974, Henry had just driven up to his business place and was alighting from his car, when three men, two of whom were armed with guns, pounced upon him. They shot him at point-blank range in front of startled onlookers.

For this callous and cold-blooded act, Riley and Forbes paid the supreme penalty, after losing all appeals, death by hanging on the gallows of the St Catherine District Prison on Tuesday, May 29, 1979.

Associated with Orr for the prosecution was Crown Counsel D J Pitter (now puisne judge), while appearing for Riley were Queen's Counsel Berthan Macaulay (deceased) and attorney Earl Witter (later QC and public defender). Forbes was defended by attorneys Sylvester Morris and C J Mitchell.

A cousin of Leo Henry, Oliver Campbell, testified in the No 1 Home Circuit Court in March 1975 that he was a salesman employed in Henry's Slipe Road store. About 8:15 on the morning of the tragedy, he was standing in the car park. He saw Henry drive in, park and get out of the car holding a briefcase and a bunch of keys to open the store.

"Then two guys appeared from the Tropical Theatre," said Campbell. "I knew both of them because I had seen them at different times on Slipe Road and passing the store," he recounted.

The men, according to the witness, were each carrying a gun which they pointed at Henry and fired. The briefcase fell from Henry's hand and one of the men picked it up. Then Riley took the gun from Henry's side, the witness related. By then the injured man was staggering and Campbell said he caught him just as he fell.

The two men then ran across the street to the Tropical Theatre.

Campbell identified them as Forbes and Riley and said there was a third man with them at the time but he was not in court. The accused were approximately four to five feet away from Henry when they fired, said Campbell.

Owen Thomas, a technician employed at Modern Furnishing, told the court that he too saw Henry drive into the car park about 8:15 am. He spoke to his boss, then walked towards the back of the car. He saw three men run across Slipe Road and then heard a sound like a gunshot. He turned around and saw the three men facing Henry, two of them with guns.

He saw Henry put his hand to his forehead and one of the men bent down and took his briefcase. One of the men ran off , the other two following shortly afterwards. They ran across the entrance of the car park, across Slipe Road to the Tropical Theatre.

"I rushed towards Mr Henry and saw the blood coming from him," said Thomas. The witness added that he had not seen any of the three men before that day but he saw their faces. When they ran away, he said, one was carrying Henry's briefcase and two of them had guns.

Cross-examined by defence counsel Morris, Thomas said he did not identify Forbes at the first identification parade, although he recognised him as one of the men, because he was afraid. He later identified him at the Central Police Station.

Dr Louis Dawson, chief medical officer for Lower St Andrew who performed the post-mortem examination on Leo Henry, said death was due to the gunshot wound to the skull.

"The victim must have died minutes after the shooting," he told the court.

Police Inspector Dudley Hines, who was stationed at the Central Police Station, said that on March 27, 1974, he conducted an identification parade in which the accused Forbes took part with nine men of similiar height, complexion and appearance. Oliver Campbell picked out Forbes as one of the men who shot Leo Henry, said the inspector.

In response to attorney Sylvester Morris, the inspector said that four other witnesses attended the parade but failed to identify Forbes.

Another witness, dance teacher Louise Murphy, in her evidence told the court that on March 14, about 8:30 am, she and a friend were walking along Gadpaille Avenue from Old Hope Road onto Slipe Road when she heard gunshots which sounded as if they came from the region of Tropical Theatre. She said that she and her friend both ran towards Modern Furnishing. They went to the entrance to the driveway which leads to the car park where Henry usually parked his car.

Murphy told the court that she saw Henry's car parked in the driveway and he was lying face down on the ground beside his car. Before she reached where Henry was, she saw Riley and two other men running across Slipe Road towards the Tropical Theatre.

Riley, she said, had a gun in his right hand and Henry's briefcase in his left hand. According to her, the other two men carried nothing. She told the court that she went up to Henry and started crying. She noticed that blood was running from his ears and he was vomiting. A man came and took Henry away in his car.

Cross-examined by Morris, Murphy admitted to being arrested four times. She said that she had known Leo Henry for about three years and during that time he had given her money when she asked him. She also said she knew Riley from they were children living in the same lane.

Morris suggested to Murphy that she had been paid by the police to give evidence in the instant case, but she denied it.

Fitzgerald Wilmot, general manager of Modern Furnishing, gave evidence that on March 14 about 8:15 am he went to work and parked his car in front of the building, because there was a crowd assembling at the entrance to the car park.

When he got out of his car, he noticed someone lying on the ground bleeding. When he got closer, he realised that it was Henry.

Wilmot told the court that someone helped him to put Henry in his car and he drove him to Nuttall Hospital where he was told no doctor was available.

He said he drove to University Hospital where they put Henry on a stretcher and the doctor said that he was dead. Later, he got the clothes that Henry had been wearing and handed them over to the police.

At the end of the prosecution's case, Anthony Forbes elected to make an unsworn statement from the dock that he knew nothing about the killing of Leo Henry.

On the day he was arrested, he told the court, he had gone to the Central Police Station with Father Alwyn Harry, a priest. He waited at the police station to see an attorney, then he, the attorney and the priest went inside the police station.

He saw a police officer, Detective Roy Smith, holding his picture. The attorney looked at the picture, then Father Harry looked at the picture. Then Detective Sterling asked him if he knew anything about the murder of Leo Henry.

"I told him no, sir." Forbes said.

He was locked up for a few days and then he took part in an identification parade. A man named Thomas came and walked up and down the line and then told the officer he did not see the man who killed Leo Henry there. Forbes was taken back to the lock-up insisting that he knew nothing about the killing of Leo Henry.

Sworn evidence from the witness box was also given by Riley who, though he had been living at 12a Clevedale Avenue, Kingston 10, was actually supposed to have been in Manchester on probation.

He testified that under the terms of his probation he was not supposed to return to the Corporate Area. He said he reported to the probation officer in Manchester on the first Monday of every month and was supposed to do this for two years.

Riley testified further that on March 10, 1974, he had spent the night at a hotel in Kingston with Pauline Melville, one of the prosecution's witnesses.

The following morning, he said, she left without him and he found that $7 was missing from his wallet. He went up to where she lived and they had a fight and he beat her. She ran out into the street and a policeman was passing and she reported to him that Riley beat her. Riley said the constable brought out a gun and pointed it at him, and he became very worried because he was not supposed to be in Kingston.

Fearing trouble with the police for breaking his probation, Riley said, he returned immediately to Manchester and stayed there. This was on March 11. He told the judge and jury that he stayed there looking for work and was not in Kingston at all on the day Leo Henry was killed.

Riley said his mother lived in Kingston and she sent him a telegram on Friday of that week saying he was to return to Kingston. He further deponed that he went to the police station in Manchester and spoke to a police officer there, then he went to see the probation officer. He declared that he did not know Leo Henry and did not know either of the witnesses who identified him at the parade.

"I was not in Slipe Road the day Mr Henry was killed. I was not in Kingston that day. I do not have a gun. I did not have one in March 1974. I am not guilty of this charge. I was in Mandeville that day. I am innocent," Riley said in a passionate voice, concluding his evidence.

Questioned by lead prosecutor Orr, Riley said he was brought down from Mandeville to Kingston by the police in a Lincoln Continental car, then taken to the Admiral Town Police Station.

In response to the Chief Justice, Riley said that Roy Henry, Leo Henry's brother, drove the car that brought him to Kingston.

The judge took 5 1/2 hours to sum up the case, following addresses by counsel. The mixed jury took 12 minutes to come to a unanimous verdict of guilty of murder with respect to both accused.

The sentence of death was pronounced on Forbes and Riley by the Chief Justice on March 7, 1975. They appealed to the Jamaican Court of Appeal but their appeals were dismissed on February 23, 1976.

Forbes and Riley were two of four convicted murderers who were hanged on the gallows of the St Catherine District Prison that final week in May 1979, following a decision taken by the Jamaican Privy Council to resume hanging. Prior to that, hanging had been suspended for three years, since April 6, 1976.

The other two convicted murderers hanged on May 30, 1979 were Clifton Irving and Vincent O'Sullivan, who were convicted of the 1975 murder of Vernon James, retired Superintendent of Public Parks and Gardens in the Ministry of Agriculture.

Next week: The gruesome death of Vernon James

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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