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Warwar murder trial

The case which prompted Ian Ramsay to hand back his QC

Sunday, October 28, 2012    

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HIS trial and conviction for murder caused quite a stir in legal circles nationally and internationally.

This was not merely because the jury found him guilty of murdering Detective Sergeant John Graham of the Montego Bay CID, but because a member of his defence team — the late, eminent Queen's Counsel (QC) Ian Ramsay — returned this vaunted honour to Her Majesty The Queen to protest what was in his view "the unjust administration of justice and the behaviour of a particular judge in the case of the Queen vs Rafic Warwar", in which he had appeared.

Nine years later, Ramsay created legal history when he was again appointed QC, the first attorney in Jamaica to have earned that distinction. The legal luminary that he was, Ramsay was presented with the Insignia of the Order of Jamaica in 2002, shortly before he succumbed to cancer of the pancreas at 72.

The man at the heart of the case that spurred Ramsay's history-making decion — 50-year-old Rafic Warwar, dry goods merchant of Montego Bay, St James — battled through four Circuit Court trials before his conviction for murder in the No 2 Home Circuit Court in March 1969, only to hear trial judge Uriah Parnell intone:

"Rafic Warwar, the jury, having considered their verdict for one hour and 41 minutes according to my estimation, and having come to the conclusion that they have come to, namely, that you are guilty of murder, there is only one sentence which I can pass and that is the one authorised by law, and that is, that you suffer death according to law...

"This fine specimen of a policeman and the courage which he displayed should be recorded and should be noted and a grateful country should do something in his memory; if it is even to establish some scholarship or do something to perpetuate the memory of this policeman. And I believe that although I have not asked the jury, the jury joins with me in these sentiments on behalf of the public. Let the prisoner be taken away."

With head bowed, Warwar was led from the dock by two uniformed policemen.

His long legal battle was to come to an end; first with dismissal of his appeal by the local Court of Appeal, followed by the UK Privy Council setting aside the murder conviction, quashing the death sentence and substituting a sentence of life imprisonment for manslaughter in 1970. Many years passed. Then, some ten years later, a petition was sent to the Governor in Council seeking his release from prison on the grounds of his failing health.

The petition was granted, but before this could be executed, Warwar died in prison. His death reportedly took place in the Spanish Town Hospital where he had been a patient for at least two months. He was 60 years old.

Warwar, who was finally defended by Frank Phipps, QC, and Howard Hamilton (later QC) told the court in an unsworn statement from the dock that he thought Graham was a thief or burglar.

He said: "God knows I would not willfully shoot the police Johnnie Graham."

The prosecution's case was conducted by ROC White and UD Gordon, both Crown Counsels (later judges of Appeal and now deceased).

The court was told that the accused had, on the early morning of October 2, 1967, gunned down the detective sergeant who had gone to investigate sounds reportedly coming from the premises of the accused. It was further alleged that the shooting took place while the deceased had both hands in the air and had shouted in response to Warwar's query: "John Graham here from the Constabulary".

In the Court of Appeal, Warwar was represented by the legal team of Vivian Blake, QC (now deceased), Ramsay; Phipps, QC, and Hamilton. Eighteen grounds of appeal were argued.

Appearing for the Crown were the late James (Jimmy) Kerr, QC, director of public prosecutions (later judge of Appeal), his deputy, Chester Orr (later puisne judge), and ROC White, Crown Counsel (later QC).

But before I embark upon the physical evidence given at the fourth trial ending with Warwar's conviction for murder, let me give readers a brief background to what transpired leading up to the start of the case.

It was no secret that there was no love lost between Justice Parnell and Ian Ramsay. People would flock to the courtroom in which the two would lock horns.

In the case of Rafic Warwar, Ramsay who, up to then, had had a string of successes, having won 27 consecutive criminal cases in the Home Circuit Court, had three cases before Parnell that week. The only other counsel who had won as many, and had even surpassed Ramsay by one, was the late Anthony Spaulding, QC.

Ramsay lost the first two cases — one for rape and the other for carnal abuse. An adjournment followed and Warwar's case was to begin on the resumption at 2 pm. The lawyer was more than upset. He told me then that he had no intention of ever again appearing before Parnell.

On the resumption, he applied for a further adjournment which was refused. Ramsay asked for and was granted time to consult his colleagues.

In the meantime, Ramsay asked Phipps to take over Warwar's defence with Hamilton acting as his junior. Phipps had recently stepped down as deputy director of public prosecutions in the office of the DPP and had gone into private practice.

On the resumption, Phipps announced the new defence team and applied for an adjournment in order to give himself time to study the brief. The judge granted him until the following morning at 10 o'clock, at which time the trial began in earnest.

Robert Prout, an engineer employed to Montego Bay Freeport Limited testified that he was living in a cottage in the Antillia Apartments at Brandon Hill. The cottages were separated from each other. He told the court that Warwar's house was about 100 yards to the east of the Antillia Apartments.

Prout said he had gone to bed on October 7 about 11 pm and was awakened about 2:30 a m when he heard as if someone was forcing a door open. The sound, he said, came from the east and he called the police, but before doing so, he looked towards where the sounds were coming from but believed he saw only shadows.

Half an hour later, a car entered the driveway of the Antillia Apartments and two men got out and walked up the pathway towards the north. He said that one of the two men had on a white-ish shirt and the other a black shirt. There was a laundry room on the premises and they were walking towards it when the banging noises started again.

The two men then walked through the parking lot and went through a barbed wire fence separating Antillia Apartments from Warwar's premises. Prout said he lost sight of the men but he could still hear the banging noises.

He recounted that four or five minutes later he heard a loud voice say: "What are you doing here?" It was a man's voice coming from Warwar's house. Prout heard a man's voice reply: "We are from the Constabulary." He added that there was some loud conversation but he could not make out what was being said.

Later, he heard four or five shots from the direction of the house to the east. He said it was quiet for a while then he heard additional shots. He was still inside his house.

About half an hour later, according to the witness, men came up the driveway and knocked at his door. He opened the door and the men used his telephone to call the police station.

Cross-examined by Phipps, Prout recalled that when the second vehicle arrived, he saw some of the policemen down in the parking lot of the Antillia Apartments and he heard them shouting for Sergeant Graham. He then heard a voice, coming from the direction of the Warwar's premises, saying he would shoot anybody who came over there and this was accompanied by some Jamaican curse words. Prout said he remembered hearing the voice from Warwar's premises say: "I will shoot your..." and the police shouting back: "We are from the police." He said he also heard a voice from the direction of Warwar's premises shout: "I shot a thief." And he heard the police call out some titles but he could not understand the names.

Asked whether he heard the voice from Warwar's premises say "I am Warwar, I shot the @$#%& thief. Come see him lying in the back of the yard", Prout said he specifically remembered him shouting "thief". He agreed with Phipps that the banging sounds he heard sounded as if blows were being delivered on a wooden surface.

Detective Acting Corporal Clinton Gayle of the Montego Bay CID testified that he left the Montego Bay Police Station to go on patrol about 1:00 am on October 7, 1967. He drove the CID car, an Austin licensed AK 209. With him were Detective Seargeant John Graham and Special Constable Dudley Harris. Gayle said all three of them returned to the station about 2:30 am and the station guard, Constable Harrison, made a report.

As a result of that report, Gayle said, Graham and Harris went back into the car and drove to Antillia Apartments. Graham was wearing brownish pants and white-ish shirt and he (Gayle) was in dark pants and black guernsey. He told the court that he knew Warwar operated a dry goods store between the police station and the courthouse in Montego Bay. He knew that Warwar and Graham knew each other.

Gayle testified further that he parked the car at Antillia Apartments and he and Graham were walking towards a cottage occupied by Prout when he heard a loud banging sound coming from the rear of Warwar's premises; it sounded as if someone was beating on a door or floor.

Witness said he and Graham turned around, crossed a wire fence and went into Warwar's premises. There were bright lights at the back and a pole light on the roof to the back. He said he heard two voices — Warwar's and that of a female — it sounded as if they were quarrelling. Witness said he heard an explosion like a revolver shot go off upstairs; lights were on in the house.

When he heard the shot, Gayle said he stopped but Graham continued walking towards an almond tree which was about five yards from the house.

After the first shot, Gayle said he heard Graham say: "Detective Seargeant Graham here. What happen?" and Warwar replied: "I don't give a $%#@ who. What are you doing here? You have no business there." Graham, at that time, was under the tree and facing Warwar's house. Then the witness said he saw Graham put both his arms in the air and say: "John Graham here from the Constabulary". Graham was holding a flashlight when he held up his hands, the cop said.

"I heard about four or five shots go off. They sounded like revolver shots. The shots appeared to come from upstairs Warwar's building. I saw Sgt Graham fall at the root of the almond tree," Gayle declared.

Afraid of being shot himself, Gayle said he ran back to Antillia Apartments where he saw Harris. He spoke to Harris and they both ran to the main gate. While running, Gayle said he heard a quantity of shots from a shotgun coming from Warwar's premises; the shots were fired in the direction in which he was running.

Gayle told the court he ran a mile and a half to the Mount Salem Police Station and returned to the scene in a Landrover, accompanied by Detective Miller. Back at the scene, he said, he saw policemen Hutchinson, Dennis and Simpson from the Montego Bay station. He saw Detective Graham lying on his back at the root of the almond tree at the same spot where he had seen him fall and he noticed that Graham's face was bloody.

He assisted in lifting Graham into a police vehicle. He drove straight to the Montego Bay Public Hospital and there Graham was pronounced dead on arrival.

About 8:00 am when he went back to the premises, Gayle said, he searched and found five spent shotgun shells; three of them about three yards away from where Graham's body was and the other two by a back step. He identified the five spent shells. He said he also saw Detective Inspector Alcock pick up two spent shells.

Gayle was cross-examined by Hamilton.

Detective Inspector Cecil Alcock, who had a total of 29 years service, was then in charge of the Montego Bay CID. He testified that Graham was second in command at the station and was there from 1956. Both Warwar and Graham knew each other and were very good friends, said the witness.

Alcock said he was at home on October 7, 1967 and about 3:00 am a report was made to him by Constables Hutchinson and Dennis. Alcock said he accompanied the constables to the home of Warwar, where he saw Warwar, Warwar's wife and a yard boy.

Inside the house, Warwar took him to a glass louvred window and said: "This is where I stood and shoot the thief."

Alcock said he told Warwar: "I understand it is Sergeant Graham you shoot," whereupon Warwar said: "Yes, I saw him come off the roof with his two hands like this (demonstrating) a flashlight in his right hand." Warwar indicated the roof of a wooden house occupied by the yard boy, Cawley.

Alcock told the court that he went downstairs with Warwar and asked: ''What stop you from seeing it was Detective Graham you shoot?" and Warwar said: ''I thought he was a thief."

When he asked the accused what he used to shoot the policeman, Warwar took a .38 pistol from his right pocket and handed it to him; he also received a five repeater Remington shotgun. The latter was given to him after he had asked the accused if he had fired any other shots from any other gun.

At the Montego Bay Public Hospital, Alcock said, he later saw Graham's body and removed a loaded revolver from the dead cop's right pocket. He then arrested and charged Warwar with murder. Cautioned, Warwar said: "Oh, well."

Cross-examined by Hamilton, Alcock agreed that six months before the incident, Warwar had presented the Montego Bay CID with a desk. He also agreed that Warwar was willing and co-operative, and that from the beginning the accused said that he thought the man he shot was a thief. Alcock agreed too that the particular area was infested with burglars, necessitating a special watch by his department.

In the course of the trial, Justice Parnell refused an application by the Crown to have the jury visit the locus in quo.

Among other witnesses who gave evidence during the trial was Constable Abraham Simpson who testified that he had gone to Warwar's premises in the company of Constable Hutchinson and Special Constable Smith following the shooting of Det Sgt Graham. Simpson testified that he was standing in the yard with Smith when he heard Warwar tell the yard boy that if the police asked him anything, he should tell them that Graham was climbing the roof of the house.

After the evidence of the ballistics expert Jack Morris, the Crown closed its case.

In an unsworn statement from the dock, Warwar said: "On October 7, 1967 about ten to three I woke from my bed with heavy noise and knocking in the building and the yard boy calling for help. I got up from my bed with revolver in my hand and flashlight and I was very scared," he told the judge and jury.

He continued: "I went in the direction of the voice — in the back verandah, in the dining room, to one louvre window. I saw someone climb zinc roof of board room. When I saw him, I said: 'Who is that?' He jumped down and a light flash in my face. I thought he was a burglar or thief. I was very scared. Immediately, I fired in the direction of light and I ventured back to my room, and bring my shotgun and I went to my roof garden and fired a number of shots in the air to scare any thief in the yard. All the house was in darkness that time. I turned the lights on inside and outside.

"My wife and myself phoned to police that I shot a thief. When the police party arrived I ask them to identify their names. After the party identified themselves, I asked them to come in and I showed them where I shot the thief. That was five feet from the board room, more to the left under the room."

Following the trial judge's summing up, the jury convicted Warwar of murder and the death sentence was imposed.

In March 1970, the Privy Council commuted the sentence of death to one of life imprisonment which was plagued by ill-health until his death behind bars years later.

NEXT WEEK: When a missing gun led to murder

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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