Three detectives who had gone to Mandeville, the Manchester capital, in 1960 to execute a search warrant on a man in relation to an alleged stolen revolver were caught off guard when the docile-looking man suddenly pulled a revolver and fired a shot.
That shot ended the life of Detective Corporal Ernel Lawrence, 44, of the Mandeville Police Station who had accompanied the then Detective Corporal Terrence Hanson of Rockfort Police Station CIB (now retired superintendent) and his colleague, Detective Corporal Clovis Stewart, to the 27 McKinley Road home of Gerald Brown to execute the search warrant on November 22, 1960.
Hanson later gave an account in the Mandeville Circuit Court of how, although unarmed, he chased the fleeing felon for some distance. In the gunfight, Brown — who also gave his address as 32 Grove Road, Kencot, St Andrew — shot detective Stewart in the neck, commandeered a taxi from its owner and drove recklessly until he crashed into a tree.
The trial judge, Justice Waddington, and a jury were told that for 60 miles police pursued Brown across three parishes during which he changed three cars. They eventually intercepted him at a roadblock at the Duhaney Bridge near Ferry, St Catherine. When Brown noticed the roadblock ahead of him, and a police car behind him in thick traffic, he pulled his Iver Johnson revolver, put it to his head and fired.
He slumped unconscious over the steering wheel of the car and was taken to the Kingston Public Hospital where he remained in an unconscious state for some time. But he recovered later to face trial for the murder of Lawrence. Brown was also charged with shooting with intent and wounding with intent in respect of Detective Stewart.
At trial, the Crown was represented by the late Lascelles L Robotham, Crown Counsel (later Puisne Judge). Brown refused counsel assigned for his defence in the person of Boyd H Carey (later judge of appeal and Finsac commissioner) and elected to conduct his own defence.
Brown claimed that he did not fire the revolver in the room and that when he drew the revolver he did so intending to give it up to Corporal Stewart, who was about to search him. He said that the next thing he knew was that a revolver had been fired and that Lawrence was falling on the bed.
He did not know where the shot was fired from, but he was certain that it was not from his revolver, because only two rounds were in the firearm when he was found at Duhaney Bridge.
In his testimony, Stewart told the judge and jury that in a bureau drawer at Brown's home they found a handkerchief with a spent cartridge among some jewellery. Having found a spent cartridge, it was important to find out whether the accused had a gun. He was in the process of searching Brown's pocket when Brown suddenly stepped away, pulled a gun from under his shirt, pointed it at Lawrence, who was looking down at the jewellery, and fired. Stewart ran out onto the verandah. Brown fired a shot which caught him in the left side of his neck.
Stewart related how, while he was running with Alton Wong Sam who had accompanied them, he heard a shot, and looking back, he saw the accused chasing him, with gun in hand. At that stage, Stewart pulled his service revolver and fired a shot at the accused.
When Stewart got to the road he looked back and saw the accused crouching behind the gate. The accused fired a shot at him, and he fired back. He then discovered that he was bleeding profusely from the wound in his neck. He and Wong Sam continued along the road and were subsequently picked up by a car and taken to the Mandeville Hospital.
Charles Williams, a taxi driver living at Caledonia Road, Mandeville, told of going to McKinley Road with the detectives and of waiting to take them back. He said he was waiting on the verandah when he heard an explosion and saw a man run out of the house.
He said he ran away into a 'yam piece'. Before reaching it, Williams told the court, he heard three other shots and shortly after he heard his car starting up. He then saw the accused, whom he called 'Bigger', reversing his car down the road. He called to him to stop. Later, Williams went to the spot where the car had crashed — about three chains away — and three men helped him to take it off the banking.
Seymour Knight, deputy superintendent (Supt ret'd, deceased) then stationed at Hunt's Bay Police Station, told the Court that after receiving a report about 7:15 that evening, he caused a roadblock to be established at Duhaney Bridge near Ferry. This was to check vehicles coming into Kingston.
Having heard a report from a firearm, coming from the direction of Ferry Police Station, Knight said he investigated and saw a car, with the accused behind the wheel, immediately behind a bus. No one else was in the car. The accused was bleeding from a wound on the right side of his head. He had a revolver in his right hand and his left hand was resting on the steering wheel.
The revolver was taken from Brown and handed to Knight by Detective Sergeant Duncan, who unloaded it and found two cartridges — one live and one spent shell. Knight identified the revolver in Court, an Iver Johnson [serial # 49165].
In response to a question from the accused, the witness said he had learnt the number of the gun from Duncan after he (accused) had been taken to hospital.
The Court visited the locus in quo during the trial in order to allow the witnesses, who testified as having been present inside the room when the shooting occurred, to point out their positions at the relevant time.
At the end of the prosecution's case, Brown elected to give sworn testimony.
In dramatic style, he told the judge and jury: "After I realised there was a road block at Duhaney Bridge and a police car just behind me, I shot myself."
It was suggested to him in cross-examination that he had decided to end his life because he had committed murder. He said that was not true.
He called a witness, Joyce Jones, who said she lived with Brown on intimate terms and she was expecting a child for him.
On the night of November 21, 1960, she had heard a shot in the house and he had told her that his gun had gone off near his face. On November 22, she had seen Brown pull the revolver from his right side and hold it in front of him. Two shots had been fired, Lawrence dropped on the bed and the other two men ran out of the room. Only one shot had hit Lawrence. She did not know if the other hit anyone else. The shots came from the gun Brown had. She saw no other gun.
Re-examined, the witness admitted that Brown's back was turned to her and she could not have seen him fire the gun. She only heard the shots.
The jury retired for two hours and returned a verdict of not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter. Brown's antecedents revealed that he had five previous convictions. Asked if he had anything to say before sentence was passed, he replied: "I have nothing to say."
In handing down a sentence of 15 years' imprisonment at hard labour, Justice Waddington told Brown that while he did not intend to hold his five previous convictions against him, nevertheless "the court has to be sufficiently severe not only to punish you but to act as a deterrent to others".
An appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal, sitting at its second session for the year, here in Jamaica in April 1961 was unsuccessful. President of the Court, Sir Alfred Rennie, in handing down the Court's decision, noted "the audacity" of Brown to bring an appeal before the Court in the circumstances of the case.
"You should have been convicted for murder," he declared.
And so saying, he added five more years to the sentence, thus making the final sentence of the Court 20 years' imprisonment at hard labour.
Justice Archer and Justice Wylie were the other two appeal judges.
In October 1961, Brown appeared in the Half-Way-Tree RM Court to answer to seven counts of house-breaking and larceny and larceny from the dwelling, and seven counts of receiving stolen goods. The charges of house-breaking and larceny and larceny from the dwelling were dismissed. He was sentenced to a total of six years' imprisonment, five to run concurrently to the sentence he was then serving.
The goods were those retrieved from Brown's McKinley home in Mandeville on November 22, 1960 when the three detectives visited to execute the search warrant and Detective Lawrence was fatally shot.
Resident Magistrate H V Talbot Chambers (later Master in Chambers and Puisne Judge, now deceased), in sentencing Brown, told him that from the way in which he conducted his defence, he appeared to be very intelligent, and if he had not lapsed into a life of crime he could be making a comfortable living.
So in addition to the 20 years' imprisonment imposed for Lawrence's murder and one additional year from the six for receiving stolen goods, Brown was sentenced to a total of 21 years' imprisonment at hard labour.
Next week: The murder trial of Matthew's Lane strongman Donald 'Zeeks' Phipps
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.