Attorneys insist evidence lacking in King Valley gang trial

Attorneys insist evidence lacking in King Valley gang trial

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, February 27, 2020

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AS the trial of the alleged members of the King Valley gang inches to a close, one attorney, in attacking the credibility of the Crown's main witness, posited that the individual fabricated evidence against his client simply because he is the brother of the purported current leader of the posse.

The trial by judge, which began on January 14 with nine men in the dock — three of whom have since been freed — saw several days of testimony from the star witness via live video link from an undisclosed location. The witness told the court that gang members were involved in the deadly lottery scamming scheme, committed murders and rapes in the course of robberies, and were also murderers for hire. The witness, a former member of the gang, also said he had surrendered to police in 2018 and decided to give evidence against the gang after they allegedly killed seven of his family members in seeking to lure him out of hiding.

The remaining six — Carlington Godfrey, alias Tommy; Rannaldo McKennis, otherwise known as Ratty; Derval Williams, also called Lukie; Christon Grant, alias Ecoy; Lindell Powell, also called Lazarus; and Copeland Sankey, also known as Tupac — are charged in an indictment containing 11 counts on suspicion of being part of a criminal organisation, providing benefits to a criminal organisation, and conspiring to commit murder, rape, and robbery with aggravation from as early as 2013.

The trial, which resumed Tuesday after a two-week break owing to the illness of accused Godfrey, saw Williams' attorney, O'Neil Brown, in making his closing submission to trial judge Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, arguing that “in weighing the evidence of (the main witness) the Crown has not discharged the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt”.

Williams has only one charge on the indictment.

“When one considers the evidence qualitatively, the next thing to look at is that it has been put to the witness that his [deciding to be a witness for the State] is a self-preservation exercise… Looking at what he is saying about Mr Williams, Mr Williams' crime would be found in the evidence of what [the main witness said], in that this is the general for the community's brother,” Brown said.

The chief justice was, however, sceptical of this argument.

“What you are saying is that the reason Mr Williams is here is that he is alleged to be the brother of the leader for the gang? But when you look at the witness' evidence overall, I don't see any evidence of the witness minimising his role in any of these activities. The witness puts himself front and centre in virtually every major crime, 'I murder, I rob, I rape', and what he is saying is, 'I didn't do these things alone',” the trial judge noted.

“So I do not see where the witness is minimising his role in any of these things. He is saying, 'I am a murderer for hire, I am a rapist, I am a robber, I am a scammer.' He has given instances; his expertise is so great he doesn't even have to count the money he can just look at the stash and say how much it is.

“Also, bear in mind as well that, in instances where it would be very easy for him to fabricate evidence, it doesn't happen. So, for example, the purchase of guns, it would be very easy for him to say, 'Yes, I went down to St Elizabeth with them', why doesn't he do that?” Justice Sykes pointed out, noting, “In assessing credibility, these are some of the things I am going to look at.”

Continuing, he said: “If you look at the particulars of his evidence, what is suggested is that he makes a distinction in that the evidence he gives distinguishes between those who provide the money and the means, and those who do the robberies and the killings. In respect of your client, did he place him at the scene committing all these crimes?”

Brown responded: “No, Mi Lord.”

“So why does he pass up opportunity after opportunity to place your client at the scene of these activities? The simplest thing would be for him to say he was there. Explain to me, if this witness is as diabolical as the thrust of your argument is, what would cause him to make the case against Mr Williams so separate and distinct from placing him at the scene?” Justice Sykes probed.

In responding, Brown branded the main witness a poor liar, arguing: “…There is not sufficient evidence to say Mr Williams provided guns, bullets and bulletproof vests to the gang, and the main witness goes on to say he was never present, which means His Lordship cannot depend on anything he is saying.”

The attorney contended further that “the proliferation of statements” given to the police by the main witness, over time, “indicated that the witness was lying to have a role for everyone”.

“I am asking you to come to the conclusion that you would not be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Williams was part of the criminal organisation, bearing in mind the totality of the evidence, including Mr Williams' sworn evidence. In my observation of Mr Williams, I want His Lordship to pay particular attention to his demeanour, he was not someone who was seeking, in any way, not to be forthcoming. I would like to commend him to you as a witness of truth; what is considered to be his crime to me is that his brother is the general, and I ask that Mi Lordship not find him guilty in this particular count,” Brown appealed.

Pointing out what he said were “inconsistencies” that emerged in the witness' testimony during cross-examination, Brown argued that “This is a witness who may say one thing now and say something else later.” He said this was also exemplified in the evidence-in-chief of the witness, when he said he had met one of the accused in 2015, only to say during cross-examination that it was in 2017 that he came to know the individual.

The attorney, however, had a hard time convincing Justice Sykes that this was the case.

“How can you say the witness has been discredited and not to accept anything he says?” the chief justice wanted to know, pointing out that when the statement was put to the witness he accepted that he had given the incorrect date.

“He accepted,” the chief justice noted, going on later to say that, “If a jury were here and the jury is told that there is an inconsistency and they are not satisfied as to the inconsistency, that's the end of the story. If they are satisfied there is an inconsistency they would go on to say, 'Is this inconsistency significant?'”

“The choice is, do I reject the testimony of the witness on that alone?” Justice Sykes questioned.

On Tuesday, too, Sean Osbourne, attorney for accused Grant, in his closing submission, maintained that “there is neither legal, factual nor public policy consideration to be given to secure a conviction” for Grant, who has been indicted for being a member of a criminal organisation.

Osbourne, in arguing that the Crown had insufficient material to validate what had been said by the main witness about Grant, pointed to the absence of any paper trail to support the claims of scamming activities.

“Even if the court were to accept that there were monetary notes being passed from Mr Grant to someone, that does not mean the notes were passed for the sustenance of a criminal organisation. On each occasion when Mr Grant's name is mentioned, there is insufficient material in relation to him — those deficiencies can only raise suspicion but cannot be conclusive… The evidence is weak and without substance and incapable of sustaining a conviction,” Osbourne said.

The trial resumes today when it is expected that Everton Bird, counsel for Sankey, will present his final submission.

On Tuesday, the chief justice, who earlier this month had indicated that the trial would end this Friday, told the Court that it would now conclude on Monday due to an “ongoing matter”.

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